5 Tips for Preparing Your Toddler for the Dentist

Image via Mindi Stavish

Ever since I was a young child, I have dreaded going to the dentist.  I remember crying to my mother before every annual cleaning.  I also remember how sick to my stomach I felt the days leading up to my appointment.  My mom would just tell me, “It's for your own good.  It's not so bad!”  Her words of wisdom did not help me get over my anxiety over the dentist chair.  After years of painful orthodontic work, I religiously see a dentist annually.   Still to this day I am not a huge fan of going to the dentist, but I care about the health of my teeth.  Now that I have young children I have to be a good role model for them.  I have to teach them about good dental care and the importance of visiting the dentist.  I even have to fake being brave when I go to the dentist.  

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children visit the dentist for the first time following the eruption of their first tooth or by their first birthday.  

Tooth decay is the single most common childhood disease.  Starting early dentist visits will help your toddler build good oral hygiene habits and hopefully keep cavities away. Here are some ways to help ease your toddler's uncertainty when he or she is placed in the dentist chair for the first time. 


Image via Flickr/mac_filko

1. Role Play

Using toddler friendly language, talk to your child about what is going to occur at the dentist. Role play with a stuffed animal or doll to demonstrate what will happen. Take turns having your child be the patient and dentist. Don't forget to talk to them about the bright lights and the big dentist chair. You may even want to let your child play with a pair of gloves and a surgical mask, in order for them to become familiar with the tools the dentist will use.

mother and child reading

2. Read Books


There are many children's books on visiting the dentist. A few weeks before the big day, start reading these books to your child. Leave the books around the house to encourage them explore the pictures on their own, as well.  Here are a few of my boy's favorite dentist books:

Elmo Visits the Dentist
My Dentist, My Friend
The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist
Just Going to the Dentist (Little Critter)

Image via Flickr/Sam Pullara

3.  Use Social Stories

Social stories are often used for children with autism, but are very helpful in teaching children of all ages about unknown situations. Social stories are written with simple language to describe a situation in terms of social cues, point of view, and common responses to the situation.  There are several social stories on Going to the Dentist available online.  Another great resource is this picture gallery of a child's trip to the dentist

Image via Flickr/Lars Plougmann

4.  Explore Online Resources

There are many great online resources to help teach your child about the dentist.  My son loves the Sesame Street site Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me, which has games, videos, and a printable coloring page.  He also enjoys playing the iPhone application Luca Lashes and His First Trip to the Dentist, which is an interactive story about going to the dentist for the first time. 



 First Trip to Dentist

5.  Be Reassuring

Most importantly, be sure to tell your toddler that you will be with him or her throughout the entire visit.   Reassure them that they can squeeze your hand as much as they want to.   Most dentists even encourage the parent to sit in the dentist chair with their child.  

For more information on pediatric dentristy and to locate a pediatric dentist near you visit My Children's Teeth.

{Related: 4 Strategies to Cope with a Biting Toddler}


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5 Tips for Preparing Your Toddler for the Dentist

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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  1. mommy nhoj says:

    I wonder how would be our first dental appointment. She doesn’t want someone mess with her mouth!

  2. LIZ says:

    i love going to the dentist, i hope my baby enjoy it too

  3. Sheila says:

    I am a dentist and would like to ask that you PLEASE do not try to prepare your child for their first visit to the dentist!! Would you prepare your child for their first trip to the park? (“Now, Timmy, there will be these large hanging straps called swings…”) Your child already realizes that they are only prepared for things that are SCARY. Your dentist should be well prepared to make your child’s first experience a good one. If they don’t make it a good experience, find a new dentist.
    When you prepare a child for the dentist, they make up their mind that it is a scary place before you get there. If you have fear of the dentist, they will sense it and adopt it. The best thing you can do is NOT prepare your child. Usually the urge to prepare a child is based on a parents own fear, not the fear of the child. If you are apprehensive, please call and speak to the doctor or staff to educate yourself of the best ways to assist with the childs visit.
    For children, I always make the first visit a “happy visit” where they ride in the chair, play with the gloves, mask, water and suction. We don’t look in their mouths or do any work at all. It is a free visit and gives the child a good experience for their first time. Feel free to ask your dentist to do this if you think your child may need preparation before they open wide!

  4. Tiffany says:

    The best tip I’ve got so far is not on this list! Introduce teeth brushing early. Our son has his gums (6 month old who is teething) brushed with an infant toothbrush after every evening bath. We are working on installing this practice as part of daily structure. I checked with his pediatrician before starting. I got the idea during my baby shower from my friend with an autistic child.

    Zachary, thank you for that tip as well. Kids love mimicking their parents (or older siblings) so sitting in on their appointment and seeing what is normal could alleviate a lot of fears.

  5. Teresa says:

    Great tips especially reading the books so the child will not be as afraid. Let the child come to the dentist with the parent on the parents exam.

  6. Teresa says:

    Great tips especially reading the books so the child will not be as afraid. Also let the dentist role play with the parent as to what is going to happen to the child. Also good advice from Zachary.

  7. Zachary says:

    As a dentist, tip #5 is the worst. Most dentists do not want the parents in the room. Children tend to behave better for strangers and if the parent is back there, their fears and interjections make it worse for everyone. The best thing you can do is let the dentist know you have a little one and ask if you can bring them to your visit (cleaning) to see what you do (or older siblings, cousins, etc.). And really, don’t try to tell the child anything about the visit, 95% of parents do more harm than good and the kid ends up thinking we are the doctor and they are going to get shots. Just let the dental team handle everything. The books are fine but I wouldn’t try to explain anything yourself. If you tell them you can hold their hand, they are going to infer there is a reason to be scared. Children don’t know fear until parents or other people give it to them.

  8. Christina says:

    I think the books regarding going to the dentist and the sesame street site will be most helpful for my two year old. Thanks so much!


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