To a five-year-old, going to the dentist can seem like a scary thing. An adult in a mask with shiny tools that “poke” around in their mouth… It’s a bad enough image to say, “I don’t want to!” For this very reason, it’s important to not only educate your child about the dentist but to also help them get excited about dental care and trips to the oh-so-dreaded dentist.
Here are a few steps on how to make the dentist fun for kids:
1. Prepare Your Child for the Dentist Trip
In order to calm any anxiety about going to the dentist (be it your own or your child’s), it is always best to know what to expect. Different ways to prepare your child include:
- Sit down and watch this video about going to the dentist. Watching a video like this will help your child see what an appointment will be like, and that the dentist isn’t the Big Bad Wolf.
- Play pretend. Play “Dentist” with your kid; have fun as you walk them through scenarios of a real visit.
- Avoid the “S” word. Any words such as “shot,” “hurt” or “pain” (synonymous with “booboo” or “ouchie”) will skyrocket your kid’s anxiety. Good pediatricians know how to handle words and situations that deal with shots. Don’t be afraid to ask them for alternative words to use so that you can prepare your child further.
- Know that crying is normal. If your child is feeling hesitant about the dentist – whether they are scared or just nervous – they are still kids. And sometimes kids cry and whine, which is normal. The best thing to do in these situations is to stay calm yourself. Dental professionals (especially pediatricians) have had experience with upset kids before – follow their lead.
2. Pick the Right Pediatrician
It can be very nerve-wracking to pick a pediatrician. There are so many things to consider, but here are a few that will help you find the right pediatrician for your child:
- Ask people. Ask your friends, the people in your neighborhood or even read reviews online about different pediatricians in your area. These are some of the best ways to find a good pediatrician that you enjoy; save yourself some pain and listen to other people’s experiences.
- Social media. Get to know a specific pediatrician and their staff without going into their office simply by scrolling through their social media pages. See what kinds of posts they promote, if they are active with current patients and if they value the same things you value for your child’s dental needs. We wrote about the top pediatric dentists on social media here a few months ago.
- Set up an interview. Get to know the dentist and their staff with a quick interview. Ask them about certain procedures, how they handle certain situations and whatever concerns you might have. This will give you a clear idea of what they are like and how they communicate. If they don’t seem to be the right fit for you, say, “Thank you,” and move on.
While at the office, go ahead and take the opportunity to ask people in the waiting room what they think of the dentist. More opinions and answers will help you make your decision.
3. Make it Fun
There are countless things you can do as a parent to make dental hygiene fun for your kid. These include:
- Dental books. Read fun books with your child about dental hygiene. Take a look at a previous blog post about the top dental books for kids here.
- Fun toothbrush/toothpaste. Take your child to the store and let them pick out a toothbrush and toothpaste! What little kid could say no to superhero- or princess-themed toothbrushes?
- Brushing charts. Help your kid keep track of their brushing with a chart where they get to add stickers each time they brush.
- Make it a game. Find ways to keep their dental hygiene light and appropriately silly. Sing a funny song while they brush to teach them how long they should brush their teeth. Have them “compete” with their siblings for who remembers to brush first. This is a great time to get creative!
- Computer games. To encourage your little one to be excited about dental hygiene, have them play computer games like these. It can be both fun and educational!
- Watch [fun] dental videos. Oftentimes, if a child sees their favorite character caring about their dental hygiene, they will, too! Find videos online about the dentist or dental care that might be fun for your kid to see.
4. Stay Calm
If your child senses any panic at all from you about going to the dentist, they will start to panic themselves. It can be scary for a parent to take their child to the dentist if they don’t feel like they know what they are doing. It’s always a good idea to be informed about the dental needs of your child, depending on their age. Read our Mom’s Guide to see what dental hygiene looks like at every age.
As you explore ways to help your child have fun with dental hygiene, don’t forget to have fun yourself! It doesn’t have to be stressful or filled with anxiety. Take a deep breath and try out our advice above. Who knows, maybe “brush your teeth” will become your child’s favorite three words.
What are ways you help your kid have fun while taking care of their teeth?