The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children be seen for their first dental appointment by the age of one. In fact, their current slogan, "Get It Done In Year One" reflects this message. As a parent, there are several steps you can take to help ensure that the appointment is a successful one.
1. Breed Familiarity: Talk about the dentist office in terms a toddler can understand. Several weeks before your appointment, mention that the dentist office is down the street from grandma's or near their favorite park. Point to it and wave if you drive by. The more you mention the office in relationship to things your toddler already knows, the more familiar—and less scary—it becomes.
2. Name Calling: Talk about the dentist, the hygienist, and the front desk staff. Use their names. Tell your toddler that Carol at the front desk always has a sticker and that Dr. Smith can't wait to meet him. Using their actual names lets your child relate to them as friends.
3. Practice Makes Perfect: The dentist always asks everyone to open wide. It's his big line of the day. While that task seems simple enough to an adult, to a toddler it can be a completely overwhelming request. Practice how wide your toddler can open his or her mouth at home. Make a game of it and watch each other in the bathroom. If you practice enough in advance, your toddler will just assume that the dentist knows the same game as mommy and daddy.
4. The Toys Have It: Another great tip is to purchase a dentist play tools kit. You can get these at major toy stores or online. They usually include the mouth mirror, tweezers, and explorer. All of these items can be scary to young children unless, of course, if you have the same toy at home.
5. Gotta Wear Shades: One of the most annoying parts of a trip to the dentist for anyone is the light. Sure, dentists need to see what they are doing, but squinting is no fun for anyone. If, however, you pack a pair of new, dentist office only sunglasses, the light can be a fun distraction.
If all else fails and your toddler is just not having it, relax. The dentist and his or her team (like those at Hurst Family Dental) are used to little ones having their own opinion on dental exams. Re-schedule for another six months out and try again.