Ok let’s face it, going to the dentist with kids is not exactly what people enjoy doing with their free-time. Even if we dread going, it doesn’t mean it needs to be that way for our kids (or even for you). Going to the dentist can be fun, and getting your kids excited about going is the first step to keeping those pearly whites healthy and strong!
With Summer just around the corner, there are lots of parents making appointments for their children to go to the dentist. I thought I would take this opportunity to go ahead address one of the questions parents are always asking me, which is – how can they make going to the dentist with kids less scary (but I secretly know they’re asking for themselves). Going to the dentist isn’t a one-time thing (even though some people try), but something you’re hopefully doing at least every 6 months. That is why starting off right, especially for your children, is so important! You’re creating habits & impressions that will last a life-time, so make them great ones.
Of course every child is different, but here are some things that have worked for lots of kids I know, and will hopefully work for you your kids too!
1- STUFF YOUR MOUTH
If you absolutely hate the dentist and have been traumatized for life, now is not the time to start blabbing detailed stories to your kids. Sometimes parents can do more damage than the dentist ever could!
If you’ve ever said the following phrases stop now and wash your mouth out with soap! Totally kidding, well sort-of ;)
“If you don’t behave the dentist will give you a shot”
“The hygienist will poke your gums if you make her mad.”
“Brush your teeth or I’ll tell the dentist to drill them out.”
“They will make you bleed if you don’t floss.”
“The dentist enjoys torturing people for fun.”
Parents use these phrases all the time and then wonder why their kid starts screaming when they come to the dentist. Anyways, hopefully I don’t need to explain why!
Ok, off my soap-box now!
2- FIND A DENTIST YOU LOVE
There are too many great dentists and hygienists out there to be stuck with someone you don’t love!
I know there are some rude ones, because I’ve worked with them. It was so hard for me to not slip business cards into their purse for an awesome dentist, but I guess some people like being treated like crap. Don’t let that happen to you! Take the time to find someone you and your kids will feel comfortable with!
Finding a dentist doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go with a pediatric one, often times you can find one for your entire family to see. The dental practice I work at sees a lot of kids. Parents like the fact they can be with their child during treatment, and especially love we are able to do most dental work without using any shots.
Many offices offer all sorts of fun amenities – fun prizes, movies, video games, spa treatments, cookies, beverages – figure out what’s important to you and go find it!
3- MAKE THE FIRST VISIT A HAPPY ONE
Schedule a Happy Visit or bring your child with you to one of your appointments. This is a great way to introduce them to what the dentist is all about! The dental hygienist will be more than happy to give your child a ride in the chair and take a peak in their mouth. Often times they’ll let them see and touch all the all the fun dental gadgets we like to use too. If not… let me refer you back to #2!
4- ATTEND A DENTAL PRESENTATION
February is often filled with dental health presentations at schools, kids day out programs, or around the community. Find one to attend, or even get a group together and ask your dental office if they will do one for you. This is a great way to introduce kids to the dentist without them feeling pressured, or worrying about getting work done. They also want to look like a big kid in front of their peers, or maybe even macho for their girlfriend – please help me, my 5 year old already told me he is getting married to the girl with the pink bow below!
We open the office for a day to allow children a chance to ride in the chair, see Mr. Thirsty, play with our water gun, and feel our tooth tickler. I’ve been doing these presentations for over 10 years now and it’s really become something the kids look forward to. I’m sure this is something your dentist would consider too – it never hurts to ask.
5- PLAY DENTIST WITH DOGS
You don’t have to be a nerdy Dental Hygienist to own one of these. For $30 you can be a proud owner of a dog with a set of perfect teeth, or if you’re a high-roller you can get the life-size deluxe version for $99. Don’t feel pressured into buying stuffed animals; I’m sure your neighbor will let you borrow their dog. Furry pals are great to role-play with and practice on before going to the dentist. Kids can learn to brush, floss, and do a little dental work on their new pet. They’ll be applying to dental school in no time! Kids can even take their dog with them to their appointment (the non-licking kind), to help comfort them and give them something to hold. Sometimes I like to show what I’m going to do on the dog’s teeth first and then on the child’s teeth. This way nothing comes as a surprise and as a bonus – the dog gets his teeth cleaned too! The kids love it and it’s a win-win – they get a pet, and you get them to the dentist!
6- PRACTICE FILLING CAVITIES
Have you seen this play-doh set for future dentists? I’m not a huge play-doh fan, but this was just too cool to pass-up! With the Doctor Drill ‘N Fill you can place braces, fill cavities, extract teeth, and even make a new grill with your initials on it if you want!
This is a great way to explain a little more what the dentist does, especially if your child needs to come in for a filling or any dental work. It’s fun for kids to get a chance to practice being the dentist and I’m pretty sure they use this set at the dental schools, or at least something close to it ;)
7- FIND A FAVORITE TOOTHBRUSH
Don’t feel like you’re stuck looking at the boring toothbrush your dentist gave you with his name and number plastered all over it. Finding a fun toothbrush is the best part, and a great way to motivate your kids to brush their teeth.
These days they have toothbrushes with Angry Birds on them, Disney Princesses that spin, some that play Justin Bieber songs, Crayola crayons that stick to the mirror, and my kids favorite is the Light Saber that actually lights up – I gave those out as party favors one year (I told you I’m a nerd)!
8- READ ABOUT – “The Hall of Perfect Teeth”
There are some really great dental books and videos out there, but my favorite by far is “The Tooth Fairy” by Audrey Wood. Whatever you do, don’t get it confused with the Tooth Fairy movie – “Darkness Falls” – my hubby still has nightmares from it!
“The Tooth Fairy” is such a cute book and whenever I read it the kids are totally fascinated. They especially love the part about “the hall of perfect teeth” – only the cleanest and brightest go there! We discuss ways the dentist and hygienist help keep their teeth clean so when they lose them, their teeth can go to “the hall of perfect teeth” too. Anyways, if you’re looking for a fun book, this is must. Let me know if you have any favorites that help your children get excited about going to the dentist. I’m constantly on the lookout for some!
9- BE A TOOTH SCIENTIST
Become a scientist for a day and your child will never question again why they need to brush their teeth or have the dentist check for sugar bugs. You may have seen or even done these experiments before, but all you need are a few hard-boiled eggs, water, coke, & vinegar.
Take the eggs and put them each in separate glasses filled with water, coke, & vinegar and then check them in a few days. Compare each egg to the one that was in the water and you will see how the outer shell of the egg is like the enamel of our teeth. The longer the egg (or teeth) is exposed to sugar, or acidic substances, it starts to eat it away. It will cause pitting and softening of the egg shell, similar to what happens to the enamel of our teeth after being exposed to similar acidic substances. For more detailed instructions and other fun dental experiments check them out HERE! Perfect for the science fair too, just in case you’re ever looking for a project to make for your child – everyone knows it’s a fair for parents to show-off.
10- ASK FOR HELP
My oldest son took until he nearly 6 before he would sit long enough to let us look inside his mouth. Even if you do everything right, there are just some kids that that refuse to cooperate or may just not be ready.
We ended up enlisting his teacher to help us out. The entire week before his appointment they talked about what to expect at the dentist and she even came with him to his appointment.
I know not everyone has a teacher as awesome as that, she’s a true gem, but you could always ask a care-taker, teacher, or grand-parent for help. A lot of times, kids are just more willing to listen to someone else, and if yours are anything like mine they started tuning you out a long time ago ;)
11- BRIBE THEM – THIS USUALLY WORKS
We all like rewards and kids are no exception. If you need to bribe your kids with toys, ice cream, & my little ponies to get them to the dentist I’m not judging you – we’ve all done it! After my son had his cavities filled this week he got to go to his favorite restaurant for a ketchup hamburger & cookie ice cream. We may have started working on the next set of cavities, but it got him to the dentist and he couldn’t have done better.
12- DON’T SCAR THEM FOR LIFE
Last, but not least, don’t scar them for life. If they scream bloody murder whenever you take them to the dentist and try biting your hygienist fingers off, maybe wait a few months before bringing them in again. As long as they’re not in pain or having serious dental issues, wait until they can at least sit in the chair and open their mouth by themselves. Forcing them to sit and pry open their mouth just leaves them hating us and probably you too. The more positive experiences they have, the better and easier it gets. Just a warning, they might start liking the dentist so much they get cavities on purpose. I have to admit, laughing gas is pretty fun!
Now Go See Your Dentist!
Now it’s time to make some dental appointments! Hopefully these ideas will help you out your kids out, so each and every trip to the dentist is a great one! Going to the dentist with kids can be fun – Really ;)
Do you have any tips or ideas for me on going to the dentist with kids? I’m always looking for more!