How to Talk to Your Child about Dentistry

A dentist and a mom talking to a child patient before dentist appontment

As your children get older, it becomes more and more important to talk to them about their dental health. When they are infants, they will be unable to understand the importance of dental care or why you take them to the dentist. But as they grow, they will understand, and that’s when it’s important for you to teach. Being open and honest with your children about caring for their teeth is important, as is giving them agency and letting them be responsible for their care.

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For many people, including adults, going to the dentist can be scary. For some children, it’s downright terrifying. But with these helpful methods, you can learn to talk to your children about dental health in a positive, helpful way.

Go Early and Often

The best way to get over your fear of something is to experience it a lot. The more your children become familiar with the dentist and what it entails, the less scary it will be. Considering taking a fun tour of the office—when no time in the chair is needed—to learn about their tools and techniques to take a lot of the mystery and fear out of the experience.

Going early will introduce your child to the easy and comfortable procedures, like simple cleaning and fluoride application. When this happens, your child will develop some kind of trust and become less stressed in the dentist office.

Use Positive Words, instead of Negative Ones

If you want your children to feel positive about the dentist, you must speak positively. Avoid words that talk about “pain” or “hurt”; it’s also good to avoid words that often carry negative connotations, like “shot,” especially if your child had a negative shot experience. You don’t want to lie to your child, but so long as he or she is not asking about the pain involved—just don’t bring it up.

A great way to start talking about the dentist is by playing dentist with your children. Get them to count your teeth and look in your mouth with a small mirror so they get used to the feeling in a safe space. Even if you don’t like going to the dentist, talking about it as a positive, happy thing will transfer over to your kids and make them feel a lot better about the trip. They will pick up on your language.

Avoid Offering Bribes

It seems like an easy trick: If we go to the dentist and are good, we’ll get a treat afterwards. But bribes imply to a child that there’s a reason to be bribed in the first place, which takes us back to a place of negative thinking about the dentist. It may even stir up fear again.

Teach your children to think about a check-up as no big deal—as though it’s just another day. It’s also important not to reward a dentist visit with sugary treats; it will send a mixed message that can be confusing.

Be Open and Honest

Talking openly and honestly about the dentist with your children is a must. If you get nervous at the dentist too, you may end up projecting your nervousness. This may make your child feel like there’s something to worry about when going to the dentist.

Remember, the goal is to make a check-up seem like it’s no big deal. However, it doesn’t hurt to bring along a comfort object, like a blanket or a stuffed animal, for your child to hold during the exam.

Stay Calm

This may be the hardest part for a parent. But staying calm while in the room is important. If your children look over to you and see you staying cool, they’ll pick up on it.

At the end of the day, your goal is to help your children feel like a dental visit is actually something exciting to do. Talk about it openly and honestly, and let your children ask questions. They’ll feel more in control and ready to tackle the visit.