Because the mouth is a source of pleasure for a young child, when he feels discomfort or pain in his mouth, the experience can seem intolerable. Therefore, your child may strongly resist a visit to the dentist, even though he’ll only feel mildly uncomfortable there.
Most children first go for a dental checkup when they’re three or three and a half years old. A younger child will go if he has a problem with his teeth or gums. Although a child under three probably will not understand what a dental visit is about, you can still describe, in a simple way, the dentist’s procedures: “He’s going to look inside your mouth and check your teeth.” At the office, your child might cooperate if he’s examined while sitting on your lap. If this isn’t possible, you should at least stay nearby so you can offer reassurance.
A child who’s three or older is usually able to cooperate and follow directions well enough to be examined by a dentist. When your child’s going for his first checkup, tell him what to expect. Try acting out a visit to the office if you think your child’s fearful. You can read your child picture books about going to the dentist or call the office before the appointment and ask how to help your child feel less anxious.
Despite your preparations, your child may still enter the dentist’s office feeling scared, and what he sees and hears there may make him feel worse. The sound of the drill can be frightening, and the dentist’s instruments look sharp. When your child is sitting in the chair, he can feel vulnerable and afraid, since he doesn’t have control over what goes into his mouth. Encourage him to express his feelings and ask the dentist questions: “Will that hurt me? When will you be done?”
If you’ve chosen a dentist who’s sensitive to children, he or she will reassure your child and explain the procedures in advance, and perhaps provide a mirror so your child can watch. You or the dentist might be able to distract your child by talking about the “treasure” he’ll take home after the appointment.
It sometimes happens that parents are more afraid of dental exams than their children. If you’re apprehensive about dentists, try not to pass your anxieties on to your child.