Preparing Children for Their First Dental Visit

Preparing Children for Their First Dental Visit

Children's dentistry in Missoula, MT

Introducing your child to dentistry in a manner which is comfortable for him, yet effective, is our primary goal. A positive first experience for your child will have results which will benefit him/her for years.

It will affect both his/her attitude towards dentistry and the quality of work which we do.

Team Effort

As a family practice we can offer a unique way of gently introducing your child to dental care. You as parents, provide the key link in our plan. You provide the example from which your child learns.

Preparation at Home

If your dental experiences have been less than ideal you may transmit this anxiety to your child. Before you can prepare your child for this experience you must prepare yourself. 90% of what your child learns is not in the words you say but how you say them.

Two common ways anxiety is transmitted to the child are “over preparing” for the visit and “horror stories” of previous experiences. Instead of “over preparing” the child, treat the visit in a matter of fact approach. It is not necessary to go into detail concerning dental treatment or how it is done. Allow us to explain to the child when he is in the treatment room. Also, everybody has a story about a dental experience. Be sensitive to stories told around children by siblings or adults and try to avoid them. Let your child form their own opinion.

The First Visit (2-4 year old)

The first visit with your child is designed as a non-threatening introduction to the office. We’ve found that the best way to introduce young children to dentistry is to invite them into the treatment room while we do an exam on a parent or other sibling. They are the guests and not the center of attention. The situation allows them to watch what we do, get to know us, and gain confidence in us by watching how you respond. The child is not forced to make cooperation decisions and it gives me the opportunity to get to know your child and decide the best way to proceed. Generally, in this atmosphere, their curiosity soon overcomes their natural shyness or apprehension. They become willing patients with a positive feeling toward the Dental experience.

Each child is unique; they have good days and bad days. If resistance occurs, I will discuss alternate approaches with you in my office. It is important to create a positive experience for the child but it is imperative for their safety for us to be in control.

Children want approval and try very hard to get it. However, many times in the first or second appointment there will come a point of “testing.” This may manifest itself in their “crying” or “acting out.” When this point comes it is necessary that you support us. With your cooperation this period usually lasts only a short time. Roles are established, and it generally is not a future problem. Since we need to establish a relationship with your child and the time we see him or her is short, please allow us to control the conversation while in the treatment room.

The following are suggestions which you need to consider before scheduling your child’s appointment:

1. Young children act differently with each parent. Determine between yourselves who the child would cooperate better with. If possible, this is a good opportunity for Dad’s involvement.

2. Children are easier to work with when they are alert and not tired. Schedule your appointment with this in mind

3. If your child has had a previous bad experience, please let us know ahead of time

4. Do not wait until your child has a dental problem to bring them in


When talking about dental treatment to or around a young child, be aware of the words you use to describe things. For example, never us: “The dentist will not hurt you,” or “It will not hurt.” This statement often suggests that hurting is a distinct possibility. Rather, say a positive statement such as “Dr. Erler will be very gentle with you.” In order to be consistent with the words we use in the office, please use the following terms.
Instead of:

  • drill – use toothbrush
  • shot – use spray
  • hurt – use pinch
  • x-ray – use camera
  • pull – use wiggle
  • suction – use vacuum

Special Children

I am proud that in over 40 years of treating small children, I have achieved a high degree of success using this common-sense approach. However, some children require a medical approach. These include some disabled and those who present management problems. In these cases, we may elect to refer you to one of the Pedodontist in Missoula.

Your participation and interest in your child’s oral health is necessary to achieve optimal dental results at minimal expense. We want you to consider is your link into the field of dentistry. Any time during the year you have a question concerning this ever-changing science, please feel free to call. I will do my best to bring you an accurate update.