Thursday, February 26, 2015

Preparing a toddler for their first dental visit

Most pediatric dentists will say that your child should go in for their first visit when they get their first tooth or have their first birthday.

Penny will be 3 years old (!!!) next week and I had been intentionally delaying her first visit because she is normally very shy and easily spooked. I wouldn't say that Penny is a child that truly suffers from anxiety in new situations; her temperament is just on the sensitive side and I have always carefully focused on honoring her when she says "no," or shows her discomfort. This isn't a focus on letting my girl always get what she wants; because there definitely have been times where she has to be overruled for her own health or safety. I focus on that she is a person with feelings who can't always truly explain why she is uncomfortable and as her parent is it my job to advocate for her and discern where and when it is appropriate for her to be encouraged beyond her boundaries.

As an example, when she was about 18 months old I started going to MOPs for my first year. Each time I dropped her off at childcare she would be tearful and cry the entire time. I gave it a few meetings to see if it was a growing pain. Afterall, until that time I was her caregiver 90% of the time. It would be rare for me not be with her, and if I wasn't then it was either her dad or grandparents. MOPs was her first experience in being cared for by "stangers." After 5-6 tries, it was obvious that she wasn't enjoying herself and it was outside of her comfort zone. I decided that in spite of the fact that I really wanted to participate in MOPs that year, it was best for us to stay home and work on her confidence in smaller settings. We started doing more play date with new friends and went to story time at the library.

Ruby's birth really catapulted Penny into becoming more confident. It was a tough thing for me to accept and embrace that my two year old girl sort of had to learn how to "fend" for herself when the new baby came. Mama's attention was now divided into two and now Penny had to find ways to occupy herself while I nursed Ruby or was unavailable. She grew beautifully in this new transition and flourished with the "free range" time.

When MOPs started up again in September this year, she was still a little anxious but for the most part had a great time. She found a couple of the MOPPETs (caregivers) that she trusted and they learned that she just needed to be held for the first few minutes while she surveyed the situation. Now she literally runs down the hall and barely gives me a glance when I drop her off. My heart grew knowing that the small sacrifices that I had made in delaying some experiences was now paying off. My shy girl was becoming a social butterfly.

With this new found bravery I knew it was time to start introducing more experiences that she was due for. I wanted to be sure that her first experience with the dentist was one that she would understand (at her developmental level) and where she could be inspired to be brave.

The time finally came where I felt confident that Penny had the chance at a good experience at the dentist. I started looking around at good recommendations for a local pediatric dentist. Luckily I was unanimously recommended to a pediatric dentist that is in our small town so I quickly make an appointment a week later.

One of my ways to help Penny prepare was by already having set the foundation of being comfortable with dental care. We have been using Jack n Jill natural toothpastes for over a year and she also loves having her teeth flossed!

The day before her dental appointment I found a couple videos on youtube that would show her what to expect. She is already very familiar with Elmo and Sesame Street, so this video was an easy introduction.

I also found a video made by a dental office that walks you through the experience. Children seem to learn better by watching other children perform, so she really learned a lot in watching this older girl go through her first dental experience.

Other ways to help your child prepare:
  • Pretend play is so powerful! Try this toy dentist tool kit 
  • Get crafty and make some tooth art with chalk or paint.
  • Help your child learn what foods are good or bad for their teeth with magazine clippings

So the day came where we visited the dentist! I prepped Penny by talking about how the dentist would be polishing her teeth ("With bubblegum?!" she would exclaim) and that she would get a brand new toothbrush too.

Our dentist's office was bright, colorful and filled with popular books that she recognized - also a big factor in her comfort level. She immediately picked out the Frozen and Cinderella Little Golden Books and read while I filled out her paperwork.

The hygienist came back and brought us to her chair. The office had an open floor plan so the kids could see each other in the chairs. Another encouragement to be brave!

Just like in the video, she showed Penny all of the different instruments and gave her a lot of compliments to get her comfortable. She went on a ride in the "big girl chair," which she actually gladly sat on. I was expecting to sit with her, and it wasn't until the polishing that she asked me to sit with her. We encouraged her by talking about how beautifully sparkly her teeth and she was allowed to hold the mirror. They gave her a plastic version of the dental mirror to take home too. Getting her to sit still long enough to polish all of her teeth was the only hard part, but for a 3 year old's first visit she did great. Oh, and no cavities either! :) I was really happy that this dentist was willing to work with us regarding educating us on our choices with fluoride.

Overall it was a great experience and I couldn't be more proud of her.  It's a great accomplishment for the child who didn't let anyone else but her mama and daddy hold her for her first 18 months. It takes a lot of bravery to trust that everything will be ok and I am so thankful that she trusts me enough to allow me to push her comfort level when it's appropriate.

How was your child's first dental visit? 
How did you help them prepare?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


  1. There are social aspects in dental care, as well as medical ones. More than safe and effective treatments should be the focal point of any visit. Anyway, it was really wise that you waited out a little bit for your little one's first trip to the dentist. Better to slowly ease her into the realm of dental visits, than simply follow prescriptions in ways that will make her averse the practice. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Eunice Greer @ Downtown Dental

  2. Her dentist suggested doing an appt for me too so she could see the dentist clean my teeth then she would be willing to do it herself. It worked! She loves the dentist now

  3. Thank you for the information! We did our first appointment at 12 months, and our second one at 24. We have another appointment in May and I'm so not looking forward to it! Madelyn bit the dentist at the last appointment :O

  4. I'm going to try these videos before my daughter's next appointment. She's been twice now and it hasn't gone incredibly well despite my best efforts to prepare her for the experience. Luckily, she talks positively about the dentist even though she didn't seem to enjoy it while we were there.

  5. That's right! You should pace things up and take your time. You can't really just send your child off to a dental visit, especially since that is what is going to build a lasting impression and will mean volumes for how the kid goes about dental hygiene from that point. Might as well prep up your child properly, so that the experience won't be too much of a shock. In any case, thanks for sharing those great tips, Bianca! Kudos and all the best!

    Garry Owen @ New Century Dental Group

  6. This was a great article about how to prepare a toddle for the dentist. My daughter is now old enough to go to the dentist. I want her to be comfortable and at ease going to the dentist. Hopefully these tips will help me prepare her!
    Emily Smith |

  7. Some kids are truly afraid of going to dentists, more so when they are being scared by their parents or friends. Good thing that you gave her time to get ready for her first pediatric dentist visit, and looks like it's quite successful since she overcame her fears and anxiety that easy. :-)

    Eunice Greer @ Downtown Dental SC



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