Preparing Your Child for the Dentist: Tips from an OT
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A high-stimulus environment like the dentist is always troubling as a parent of a sensory child. The loud sounds, bright lights, and shiny tools can be a lot to take in for most children. But when you factor in the sensory sensitivities, it’s a whole other ball game.
With all that in mind, I was dreading our 2nd visit to the dentist because the first one didn’t go so well.
To my surprise, she did fabulously and I’m here to share some tips for preparing your child for the dentist.
7 Tips to Prepare Your Child for the Dentist
1️) Show photos and video of the dentist office and the dentist who will work with your child. Bonus points if they have a social media account like our new office that we’re in love with! (Shout out @treehousepediatricdentistry). This will take away that fear of the “unknown” as your child can start to visualize what to expect. Bonus tip: Some pediatric dentist offices offer a “meet and greet” visit where you can walk into the office for a few minutes and say hi and get familiar with the surroundings before your actual visit.
2️) Talk through the sequence of procedures- check in with the dentist office and ask them what exact procedures they’ll be doing (and in what order) so you can share it with your child. Practice (play is best!) with them and talk about it when you do their nightly routine. My daughter loves when I play hide and seek with things, sometimes I say “I’m looking for glitter in your teeth”. Sometimes I say “I’m counting your teeth”. Sometimes I say I’m looking for different Disney characters hiding and I have to find them with floss. This helps prepare your child for the dentist by walking them through the exact procedures that they’ll participate in.
3️) If your child enjoys watching cartoons, find the Daniel Tiger goes to the dentist episode (on YouTube) or find social stories (check out teacherspayteachers). There are several other youtube videos that also help prepare your child for the dentist. Bonus tip: if you go to the dentist before your child does, ask the dentist if you can video yourself getting some of the procedures done so your child can see you going through it yourself.
4️) Bring a lovey or other squeeze toy that will help comfort or soothe them when they feel nervous. Squeezing provides proprioceptive input, which is inherently calming to the nervous system.
5) Heavy input: Speaking of proprioceptive input, you could ask the dentist to keep the x-ray vest on your child during the procedures because the heavy weight can be calming and regulating for a child. Note: if your child is extremely small, the vest may be too heavy to keep on for long periods of time. If this is the case, you can place the vest across their lap rather than on their chest the entire time. The heavy weight on their legs may still be calming to them. Or, bring your own weighted lap pad.
6) Set them up for success on the day of: this is not the morning to push non-preferred foods, and it’s not the morning to have them wear those shoes they hate. Let the socks go if it bothers them. Try to schedule it at their “most regulated” time of day. Adding more sensory triggers may only set them off even more, so prepare them accordingly!
7) Probably one of the most important tips to prepare your child for the dentist is to be real with them. Try not to sugar coat things and say “it won’t hurt” if your child has to get a numbing shot or a tooth removal. Be transparent and say “you’ll feel a pinch for a few seconds and then your mouth will feel really tickly!”. Keeping your kids in the dark or tricking them into something that they don’t expect might backfire on you.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Remember, the dentist can be a scary place for many children, with or without sensory challenges. If you consistently practice these tips and also offer times for your child to ask you any questions, your child can have a successful trip to the dentist.