How great would it be to take your kid to the dentist and leave with nothing but smiles?
We aren’t quite there yet, but after 4 years and 8 trips to the dentist, we are making progress! Having a child with high anxiety, the dentist experience from the beginning was right up there as one of the worst for a first-time mama!
Thankfully, with Easton, we had some extra support from therapists and experts in our early days to help us prepare and make going to the dentist as enjoyable an experience as possible. I am happy to share what we have done, are still doing, and have learned along the way.
Whether your kiddo is going to the dentist for the first time, or just has some extra anxiety about the trip to the “D” word, I hope some of these ideas can help your family!
1. Role Play
I am sure you have all heard this before, but it is important to actually act out what the dentist will do. Be truthful with what will happen at the dentist. Touch some of the super sensitive areas in the mouth that kids aren’t used to. Get a plastic glove, let your child feel it, and then touch around his teeth and inside his mouth like you’re the dentist.
Have your child practice saying “ahh” and opening his mouth on command. Take this one step further and have your child lie back on the floor or in a recliner. (This is whole new perspective and can heighten all kinds of experiences and senses just by being in this position). If this is too much for a child who is extra sensitive, talk to your dentist ahead of time and have your child sit in your lap (also make sure to check out number 4).
2. Social Story/Prep
Visit the dentist office ahead of time, and take pictures of the entrance, the waiting area, etc. Make sure to get pictures of any fun things your child can do while waiting to help make the experience positive.
You can even create a photo-story book to look at with your child one or two weeks before the visit. This is a good way to help him be familiar with the place, the dentist, and the experience. It helps your child have the emotional ability to focus on the actual visit instead of fear and anxiety.
Tell a story of a child going to the dentist. Here is a great example of a generic social story about going to the dentist.
Talk to the dentist beforehand if it is your first visit. Ask what order things will happen, so your story is written in the same order. If a hygienist will come first and clean his teeth, make sure to put this in the story with a picture of them if possible. The more specific and relate-able the story is to the actual experience, the more prepared your child will be.
Take pictures of the dentist chair and dentist, or pull a picture from their website. On the last page of your book include a special reward for after the visit with the dentist. End with a positive character builder, like “I’m so proud of you for doing such an awesome job and being so brave!”
3. Choose a Pediatric Dentist
I recommend a pediatric dentist because everything about the experience is kid-centered. They have the hearts, wisdom, training, and patience to handle children! They often have TVs and many other things to make it a great experience. Summit Family Dental and Des Moines Pediatric Dental Center are two great pediatric dentists in the Des Moines area.
4. Make it a Positive Experience
Don’t expect too much the first visit. If needed, take baby steps. You know your kiddo better than anyone! Let the office know ahead of time if you want just the visit and don’t want to do x-rays. Save that for when your child is more comfortable.
Most importantly, if you can’t get through the entire visit, that’s okay. Start slow, and build on each visit. You don’t want to start off with a fearful visit because every 6 months is not frequent enough to overcome one bad experience. With a child on the spectrum, anxiety and fear take over daily life for quite some time.
5. Provide a Positive Reinforcer
If your child is really anxious, and you want to make the visit to the dentist even more special, choose a special toy or favorite animal, etc… and only allow your child to have it for the dentist visit. This helps shift the focus from the negative or unknown of the dentist to another object that is super cool.
I have been successful using this strategy, but it takes some will power to save those precious items for when it counts!
Another thought to help with distraction is to make a game out of the social story mentioned above. Bring a sticker sheet and as you complete each page in the book, let your child pick a sticker to place on that page.