Smiling All the Way to the Dentist

Photo by Jenn Durfey via Flickr Creative Commons. by megan gilbreath

Let’s face it: toddlers are a handful! But I never truly feel fearful or overwhelmed while on the job. I’ve become quite immune to funny smells, naughty behavior, and everything in between. Green vomit? Not a problem. Poop smeared on the floor? Done. Dentist appointment? Eek! Do I have to?

That was my exact thought when my MomBoss said it was time we took her son to his first dentist visit.

I’m not sure about you, but I have major fears of the dentist—the drill, the smells, “open-wide”—it all freaks me out. So I had no clue how I would pull this off in my usual calm, cool, and collected manner.

Before we even stepped foot in the dental office, I searched the Web for expert advice. I knew October marked the American Dental Hygienists Association’s fifth consecutive National Dental Hygiene Month, so I started there.

Top Tips for Taking Toddlers to the Dentist

I did the legword so you, dear nanny, can kick up your feet as your charge has his or her mouth and teeth examined by the doctor. Here are the top tips from the ADHA.

  • Only schedule visits when your charge is likely to be well rested and cooperative (probably early morning or after nap time).
  • Never mention the words “hurt” or “pain” when discussing the coming oral health visit. Even saying “it won’t hurt” is off limits because it will instill the possibility of pain in your charge’s thought process.
  • Keep your own negative experiences and opinions about the dentist to yourself. You must lead by example, even if you are afraid. (I must admit, this was not good news for myself!)
  • Always be available and encourage your charge to discuss any fear he or she might have about the dentist.

Easy enough, right? Eh, I wasn’t totally sold.

I did some more research and found Dr. Jennifer Stevens, DDS, MSD, a pediatric dentist with Dental Associates in Wisconsin.

Dr. Stevens suggested that nannies and parents tour the dental office before the actual appointment in order to have a happy and successful first visit with the child. This way everyone will know what to expect and can address fears beforehand.

As for during the dental visit, Dr. Stevens always does (and would recommend you to ask your charge’s dentist to use) the tell-show-do approach. It works exactly as it sounds. Dr. Stevens tells the child what she is going to do, shows them how it will work, and then does what was discussed. The child is then prepared for what’s coming and can voice any concerns

Dr. Stevens also mirrors the ADHA’s method of avoiding negative words like “hurt” or “pain.” She would instead ask, “does it bother you?” Dr. Stevens goes even further to call a shot “sleepy juice;” x-rays are known as “pictures,” and the drill is refered to as “a whistle.” (So cute!)

Now I was finally starting to feel at ease for my charge’s first visit to the dentist. But I had another concern. My charge has high functioning autism and I was nervous such a new environment would cause behavior outbursts.

I turned toward my charge’s teacher and ABA therapists for how to set my charge up for success.

They all suggested taking an additional step before Dr. Steven’s recommended tour. I would visit the office first, take pictures and then create a PowerPoint. I would then share this with my charge, allowing him to see every step of the visit before he even stepped foot into the office: signing in, sitting in the dental chair, a picture of the dentist himself, the tools… Basically anything and everything would go into the presentation.

My charge’s support system also suggested “practicing dentist” at home. You can find basic dental tools, rubber gloves, and a flashlight at any drugstore. As you shine the light into your charge’s mouth, feel their teeth, tongue, and the sides of their mouth with the tools and your rubber-gloved fingers.

When it comes to the actual dental visit, make sure the dentist reclines the seat before your charge sits down or even enters the exam room. Many kids get extremely nervous after they sit in their chair and then slowly recline into a particularly vulnerable and uncomfortable position. (Gosh, I can relate!)

Also, a child will usually perform better if a reinforcer is offered for after the appointment. The reward should be special and used only if the child put much effort into having a productive and well-behaved visit.

After hearing these genius tips and pointers, I feel much more comfortable taking my charge to the dentist (the official date is set for the end of the month!). It was a good reminder that going to the dentist is a good thing for our teeth and overall health. Only smiles left here!