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The American Dental Association recommends that children visit the dentist office when the first tooth emerges, or no later than age one. As a parent, we want to do the right thing, but how do we make the experience productive and minimize the anxiety of that first visit?

If you’ve past the first-year milestone and still haven’t made that first appointment, here’s a checklist to help make your child’s trip to the dentist a pleasant and productive experience:

  1. Practice/role play at home. Have your child “check” your teeth and do the same.
  2. Plan a light snack before the appointment. Empty stomachs can make children grouchy.
  3. Come prepared. Bring their favorite toy, blanket, distractions.
  4. Use positive language. Exchange clinical terms like cavities, plaque, bacteria, etc. with “sugar bugs,” “tooth fairy.”
  5. Be a good cheerleader/role model. Discuss the importance of oral health. Stay calm and relaxed. You’ll help your child to do the same.

It’s also important to find a dentist that specializes in children. Pediatric dentists are specially trained to treat children and their unique dental health needs. Many offices, like Western Dental Kids, provide a fun and playful environment, with activities and promotions geared for kids. That takes any fear or anxiety out of the conversation and makes kids want to return.

Establishing a positive attitude toward the dentist at a young age is crucial to having a peaceful and productive dental appointment as an adult. That’s why it’s important to set up your kids for success in their oral health. Good habits learned early can provide a lifetime of health benefits – and a healthy regard for the dentist.