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Dental checkups, where dentists and dental hygienists examine teeth, gums, and mouths, are important appointments. These appointments allow dentists the opportunity to measure changes and check for cavities, gum disease, or signs of oral cancer. Introducing children to the dentist for the first time can be a challenge of comfort, which is why preparedness is a penultimate step before taking a child in for examination.

For children, routine dental checkups are a necessity, even if children don’t agree. And certainly, no amount of after-visit tubes of bubble gum-flavored Colgate, festive toothbrushes, nor stickers will endear them to the idea of visiting the mysterious man in the white coat who has numerous sharp, reflective tools. For most children, a routine visit to the dentist office will be relatively painless, but communicating that must take place early in a child’s so that they’re comfortable with the idea of visiting their dentist.

The only way to effectively endear children to the idea of visiting is to have them visit early and regularly. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests that children visit the dentist as early as age 1, or within six months of the appearance of their first tooth. In reality, parents tend to wait much longer to take their children. On average, they take their children when they are 2-years-old and 6 months on average. The idea of taking them in early corresponds with the understanding that babies are far too young to prescribe to dentist-related fear. However, toddlers, who are a bit more cognizant, somewhat understand anxiety, which is why it’s important to build positive associations before children develop notions of fear and anxiety to attach to visits to the dentist office.

If find that you need help settling your baby’s or toddler’s pre-check up jitters, there are a number of exercises you can practice in order to encourage peace of mind. For instance, you can select one of your child’s favorite dolls or stuffed animals to assist you during a pretend dental exam. To simulate a real dentist visit, you and your child can use flashlights, mirrors, floss, and toothbrushes to treat the doll or stuffed animal’s sweet. If the toy has teeth, you can use your finger to count their teeth, starting with the number 1 or the letter A. If the doll doesn’t have teeth, count your child’s teeth with your fingers. After you’ve taken on the role of the dentist, allow your child the opportunity to be your dentist.

During this playtime, you should be sure to use a soft tone and encourage words, reminding them of the importance of healthy, strong, and clean teeth. Iterate the importance of a doctor and what they do, and display a bit of excitement when taking them to the dentist office. Mentally preparing a child for their first dental visit isn’t merely soothing for the child, it could mean that you’re facilitating a trusting relationship between your child and his and her dentist.

Remember, at this age, it’s understandable that children may be fussy, but you should remain calm, stay pleasant, and help your dental care professional provide your child with the assistance that he and/or she may need. Dentists are no strangers to temper tantrums, and can help to calm children. If you find that your child continues to wiggle, re-enlist the help of his or her favorite toy, and try humming to put your child at ease.