I was a little concerned when I took my preschool-age daughter to the dentist last week. She has always been very prone to anxiety, especially around strangers, and I imagined that she would panic when the dentist held her down and scrubbed her teeth. Fortunately, because we planned ahead and kept the experience as stress-free as possible, my daughter made it through the entire dentist appointment with no behavioral problems, anxiety, stress, or pain. Here are a few tips for keeping your preschooler's dentist appointment as low-key and positive as possible.
1. Read dentist-themed books for a few days ahead of time. Many, many children's books are available that teach kids about dental care in a fun, positive, upbeat manner. Check out a few dentist-themed books at your local library and read them frequently in the time leading up to the appointment. They will get your preschooler excited, rather than nervous, about the experience at the dentist's office.
2. Go to a pediatric dentist. Although many "regular" dentists will accept preschool-age children as patients, it's best to take your child to a pediatric dentist who knows how to deal with the anxieties and behaviors of preschool-age children. Pediatric dentists have years of experience handling problems ranging from tantrums to terror. They are more likely to have child-friendly, fun decor and toys that can keep the child calm and happy.
3. Tell the office if your preschooler has significant behavior or mood problems. It's quite normal for preschoolers to be somewhat nervous about going to the dentist, but the office staff might make special preparations if they expect your child to be particularly prone to panic or misbehavior. When you make the appointment, don't be afraid to say, "My son is very afraid of doctors and might be very nervous," or "My daughter has autism and sometimes has tantrums." They can take extra precautions to keep your child comfortable during the experience.
4. Have something special planned afterward. I promised my daughter a trip to the playground after her dentist appointment, and that's just what she got. The understanding that something very fun would follow the experience kept her feeling calm and upbeat during her dentist's appointment. I was very relieved that the staff and dentists worked together to make sure that her cleaning went as smoothly as possible and guaranteed that we would have a good day from that point onward.
A trip to the dentist's office doesn't have to be stressful or difficult for you or your preschooler. Simple measures can keep a dental appointment as fun and comfortable as possible. Talk to your child's pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric dentist, especially if you suspect that your child might need specialized care.
Related Work by Juniper Russo