Ideally you should start taking your little one to the dentist when that first tooth appears. Careful planning and preparation make toddler dentist visits less painful, if not fun and exciting. Your positive attitude could encourage your child to anticipate a visit to their favorite “tooth doctor”.
Some dental procedures, especially fluoride treatments, require your child to wait at least 30 minutes before eating and drinking. Toddlers are also less cooperative around naptime. The best time to schedule a dentist appointment is right after breakfast. Your little one will be well-fed and alert. If it’s too hard to fit in a dentist appointment at school drop-off time, another option is right after lunch and naptime. Try to book appointments from 9-10 AM or from 2-3 PM.
It’s fine to tell your toddler that sometimes they might feel a little “owie” at the dentist office. Balance the honest truth with the positive aspects of going to the dentist. Remind them that if they hold still and behave, they’ll get a special goodie bag. Just like ice cream, the dentist has special toothpaste in lots of flavors. Give your toddler as many choices as possible to help them feel in control.
No Toothbrush Torture
Brush your child’s teeth gently. Avoid running a toothbrush torture chamber in your home. What is toothbrush torture? Holding your child down while jamming the toothbrush into the recesses of their mouth to reach those hard-to-get molars is an unpleasant experience for your child. Put a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush and put it in your child’s hand. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes or sing the ABC song three times. Pay attention to the areas your child can reach. When your child’s done, praise them for brushing their teeth, then quickly (but carefully) touch up the spots your toddler missed.
Visit the Dentist
Yes, visit the dentist before visiting the dentist. Call your pediatric dentist beforehand to coordinate a quick visit to the dentist during a slow day. Give your child a few minutes to play with the toys in the waiting room. Then, let the dentist give your toddler a tour of the examination room. Even if your child is still a little nervous, the fear of the unknown will be alleviated.
Lead by Example
Avoid complaining loudly about dentist or doctor’s visits in front of your child. Floss and brush your teeth in front of your toddler. You can even have your toddler play “dentist” and practice brushing a stuffed animal’s teeth. Read colorful picture books about going to the dentist. Enlist older siblings if necessary.
At the end of the day, your toddler takes cues from you. Your calm, positive attitude about visiting the dentist will be contagious. A little bit of smart scheduling and coordination will do the rest.