5 Ways to Help Make a Trip to the Dentist a Positive Experience


Photo Courtesy:  ClipArt

A trip to the dentist can be an uncomfortable experience for many people.  For children, a visit to the dentist can be scary.  Here are 5 ways you can make a trip to the dentist a positive experience in order to establish good oral health habits.

1.  Find a dentist with pediatric experience.  Working with adults is not the same as working with children and working with children with special needs can be different than working with other children.  Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric dentist.  Or, if you have a local parent group or play group, ask other families for recommendations.  Some dentists have extra credentials and training for working with children with anxiety or behavioral needs.  Do your research and find someone recommended by other families and professionals.

2.  Ask for a tour and a “meet and greet” before your child’s first appointment.  Some dental offices will give you and your child a tour of the office before your child’s first visit.  During the tour, ask if your child can see the room, sit in the chair, look at the instruments, meet the dentist, etc.  Taking a tour of the office and meeting the dental office staff before their first appointment may help ease your child’s anxiety.

3.  Schedule your child’s appointment when they’re not busy.   Many children have difficulty waiting.  Schedule your child’s appointment during a slow time at the office in order to decrease the amount of time your child has to wait.

4.  Complete the paperwork and provide information to the dental staff before the first visit.  Be prepared to share information about your child’s medical history, , special needs and/or behavior or sensory issues.  Discuss any problems with chewing, gum or tooth pain, toothbrushing, etc.  Also, provide information about your child’s diet, allergies and medications.

5.  Praise and use positive reinforcement with your child.  Ask the dental staff if your child can bring a comfort item with them during the appointment.  A lovey, blanket, toy or favorite music may help keep them calm and decrease their anxiety during the visit.  After the appointment, praise your child for how well they did and offer reinforcers as needed.  Some children may benefit from a “first and then” visual board.

It’s important to establish good oral health habits early in life.  Depending on your child’s specific medical needs, there may be additional dental visits and procedures.  For more information about working with your child’s dentist, please check out the Oral Health for Families with Special Needs Booklet.