How to get Kids to Cooperate at the Dentist

In general, getting kids to cooperate is one of the more challenging aspects to parenting. Part of the problem is that kids have their own agenda, and going to the dentist probably isn’t very high on that list.

Here are some ideas to use before, during and after going to the dentist, that will help foster a more positive experience with dental care.

Before…

  • Even before you first visit the dentist with your under one-year old child, you can begin talking about going to the dentist. Read books about visiting the dentist. Draw pictures. You can even “play” dentist, using the other end of a spoon to look around in their mouth and talk about their teeth. (Avoid using words like “shot”, “needle” and “drill”.)
  • Have them keep track of how many teeth they have, and whether it looks like there might be another one on the way.
  • A child’s 1st dentist appointment should happen within 6 months of their first tooth eruption and before their first birthday. This appointment should be mostly a meet and greet with minimal in-the-mouth time. There doesn’t need to be a full cleaning or any procedures, but there will be a big high five at the end, and maybe even a toy. If your child is comfortable with more, great, but if not then it was good just to get there. You might want to check with your dentist before going to see how they do things.
  • Giving kids a head’s up when appointments are on the way, will give them time to express feelings that might come up ahead of time. Ages 2 and 3 can be a challenging time for dentist appointments. Remind yourself not to take any uncooperative behaviors personally during these early tantrum years. There may be a rough visit or two, but you are still a good parent.
  • Create a safe space to talk. Try to allow their scary and negative thoughts to come out. Avoid telling them not to be afraid. Instead ask what they are afraid of, and offer a listening ear.
  • Assure them that their dentist is really good at what they do, and remind them that the dentist is always going to explain what they are planning, and will answer in any questions they have.
  • Be sure to answer any questions that you do have answers for, and when they have questions you can’t answer, tell them, “That’s a great question, let’s be sure to ask the dentist that question.”

Having a regular routine around personal oral hygiene will do a lot to prepare kids for the dentist. As author Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

During…

Keeping regular appointments with a family dentist for yourself and your family, will allow your children time and space to feel comfortable with a predictable routine and a familiar face.

  • For little ones who have a favorite toy or snuggly, you might suggest bringing it along.
  • If you have more than one child, consider scheduling appointments with one at a time, and leaving your other kids with grandma or a neighbor, to cut down on the stress.
  • At Surfside, we think about every detail of your child’s experience in our office. From our waiting room to our exam rooms, we want to help your family feel welcome, excited to be here and comfortable. We hope that making our office a kid-friendly space will foster a sense of belonging and fun around visiting the dentist office.
  • As a parent, we can bring a lot of our own fear and trepidation with us to the dental chair. Be aware of this, and try to keep it in check when visiting the dentist with your young child or children.
  • Stay relaxed, and calm and applaud their best effort. If they are scared or have a hard time, try to hold back criticism, and offer instead compassion. If there is an outburst, just remember that it isn’t the first time your pediatric dentist will have seen a child melt down, and probably not the worst either!

After…

  • Plan a treat ahead of time. Something fun and relaxing like playing at the park or visiting the zoo. Even if your child did a really great job, visiting the dentist can be stressful and bring up anxiety. Coupling that with something connecting and/or delightful will give a child an associated positive feeling, and will give you both a chance to calm down and enjoy some time together.
  • Don’t forget to talk about the appointment and maybe draw a picture a few days afterwards. This will give our kiddo a chance to reflect and express, which will eliminate a situation where they bottle up and create negative feelings.

We hope these ideas will help you and your child foster a wonderful relationship with going to the dentist. Remember to get outside and enjoy the sun whenever you can, because it’s always time for the beach at Surfside Kids Dental. See you around, surfers!

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