tips for child's first visit to dentist

By Aaron Schulman

It is normal as a parent to be nervous about taking a young child to the dentist for the first time.  How will they react?  Will they be traumatized?  Will I be able to handle the situation?  All of these are valid questions and concerns.  With a little bit of thought and preparation you can do your best to guarantee a great first visit that can lead to a positive life-long relationship with the dentist.

How will they react?

How a child will react to going to the dentist the first time is very difficult to predict.  If your child is easy going and adapts to new situations well, it may be best to just leave well enough alone as to not make what doesn’t seem like a big deal into a big deal.  However, not all children adapt well to new situations, and it is best to prepare them for what is yet to come.

  • You can find videos of children having positive experiences visiting the dentist.  Many children will identify with an individual on TV, and if they witness a positive experience then they can feel theirs will be positive as well.  Be sure to preview any of the videos for material that would not be appropriate or may not be sending a positive message.
  • Does your dentist have a treasure chest?  Call and ask to see if your dentist uses a treasure chest.  You can often tell your child that going to the dentist is a big deal for everyone. Everyone gets nervous.  The dentist knows this and that is why when you are finished you get to pick something special from the treasure chest.  This gives the child something positive to look forward to during the exam.  There is nothing more exciting to a child than “hunting” for treasure; it is just that this hunt includes getting their teeth cleaned.

Will they be traumatized?

We have all heard the horror stories of something horrible happening to them at the dentist, and now they have a fear of ever going back.  The reality is most of us do not become traumatized by the dentist. However, there are several simple things we can do for our children while we are at the dentist to help keep them calm, cool, and collected.

  • This may sound easy enough, but be there.  Don’t be on your phone, iPad, or even be reading a magazine (unless it is to your child).  Be there 100% for your child.  They need you for this visit.  Even if they do not seem nervous or emotional, they probably are a little bit, and your full attention will help them have a successful visit.
  • Use a “safe” word or signal.  Come up with something beforehand that your child can say or motion to you to let you know things just got a little too much to handle.  Be sure to share this with the dentist and staff to ensure that whatever is bothering them stops right away.  This will give them a moment to take a breather, address the situation, and move on without a traumatic experience.

Will I be able to handle the situation?

  • Some parents have a very difficult time with seeing their children under any amount of distress.  I have a friend who claimed that her mother passed out during her first dentist appointment.  You do not want more attention to be placed on you than the child.  Therefore, if you feel that you will be too uncomfortable with the situation, it is time to “tag team”.  Have your spouse or other trusted adult assist with the appointment.  Everyone will be happier in the end.

There is no doubt that the first trip to the dentist can be nerve wracking to parent and child alike.  However, with a little homework your child can have a stress-free, healthy smile!

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Aaron Schulman is a loving father of three beautiful daughters.  He and his wife, Jennifer, have researched ideas on how to help their girls have a successful first trip to the dentist.   Aaron currently works as a contributing member of 5th Avenue Acquisitions where they assist dentists on how to sell a dental practice.  You can learn more about him and the company at