Few adults look forward to a trip to the dentist’s office so you can imagine how difficult it must be to get a child enthused about going to get dental work. Below you will find a few tips that will motivate you kids to care about their dental health and hopefully keep you from dragging them to the dentist kicking and screaming.
A brushing chart
A little incentive goes a long way! Set up a chart in the bathroom next to their brushing station and every time they brush their teeth without being told (in the morning and at night) they will receive a sticker. At the end of each week give them a reward if they filled the chart and watch how excited they get to brush! By enforcing the stipulation that they have to brush without being told, you are giving them a sense of responsibility and helping them create healthy habits. Encourage them to take the chart to their next dental appointment and show the dentist how great they are doing at taking care of their teeth.
Personify plaque and cavities
Be sure to let your child know why it is so important to take care of their teeth by brushing and flossing every day and night. To them it just sounds like work so a great way to motivate them to want to brush is to let them know about the bad guys they are fighting every time they brush their teeth and floss. Let your creative juices flow as you tell them all about Captain Tartar from Planet Plaque who wants to settle on their teeth and invade their healthy gums. It may sound silly but as parents, silliness is something you’ve long since gotten used to. By making them the heroes that protect their mouths from cavities and other harm, you are empowering your child and letting them know they can take charge of their health.
Encourage them to ask questions
Get your child asking questions when they are at the dentist. Particularly for children who are afraid of the dentist, and many kids and even some adults are, asking questions can help put their mind at ease. Although kids are naturally pretty inquisitive, feel free to give them a reason to go in and ask questions.
You could set up a challenge of sorts and give them a list of things to find out while they are at the dentist. Questions could be:
- What are three tools their dentist uses and what do they do
- Where do cavities come from and how can you get rid of them
- What are the proper names of a couple of their teeth (bicuspids, incisors etc.)
This is a great way for them to learn and it makes their dentist more of a friend than a stranger. If they answer all their questions at the end of the appointment celebrate with a treat or reward!
Let them teach
After every trip to the dentist ask your child questions about what the dentist did and said. Did they get a good report? Did they learn anything new? Get their minds engaged! The more they know about their dental health the better they will understand why going to the dentist is important. Sit down and challenge them to teach you something new. Ask questions and be amazed at how much they’ve learned. Your child will certainly enjoy feeling like they are in charge and know something you don’t. Not only will they be excited to go to the dentist to learn even more, but it is also a great way for you to bond as they see that your relationship also works as a partnership.
Make it fun
Dentists are well aware that children probably aren’t their happiest customers. For that reason most pediatric dentists have gone above and beyond to make their offices kid-friendly. Some have even gotten renovations to turn their offices into a child’s dream playplace. If at all possible find an office that truly caters to children. Of course there is more to a dentist than a fancy office so be sure to research their credentials before taking your child in. You will find that your kids have no problem going to the dentist when the office feels more fun that frightening.
Dr. Robert D’Alfonso is the lead dentist at the Lakeway Center for Cosmetic and Family Dentistry in Austin, Texas. He has spent 100s of hours in continuing education since graduating in 1998, perfecting his skills in cosmetic dentistry. He is also one of fewer than five Austin dentists with a “sustaining” membership in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
Photo Credit: Roy Blumenthal (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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