My toddler hates the dentist and won’t open his mouth.
Are you feeling a bit of frustration or anxiety because your child refuses to open his mouth for the dentist? If so, you should know there are a few tips that can help your toddler have a successful visit to the dentist’s office. The following tricks can help save your sanity and make the dentist’s appointment a breeze for your little one. Don’t be afraid to use more than one of the following tips to help your toddler open up for the dentist.
1. Prepare for the Visit
It’s not enough to simply tell your toddler that he will be visiting the dentist soon. Instead, try using child-friendly language to explain what will happen during the visit. Discuss all pieces of the visit from sitting in the waiting room to letting the dental hygienist count his teeth. You just might find that the more information you give, the more questions your toddler will ask. Curiosity can be helpful and relieve anxiety about the visit!
2. Read a Book Together
Take a trip to your local library or bookstore to find a book about a character who goes to the dentist’s office. You might even find a book with a specific character that your child happens to love! Sit down together and read the book aloud to your little one. Let your toddler study the pictures to see what’s happening. Point out the dentist’s tools to see if your child can spot them when he goes to the dentist. The experience of reading a book with your child can make the upcoming dental visit seem like an exciting adventure!
3. Schedule a Walk-Through
If your toddler is showing a great deal of anxiety about the dental visit or is refusing to open his mouth for the dentist, you may want to schedule a walk-through appointment. This type of visit allows your child to meet the members of the staff and the dentist in a low stakes situation when his anxiety is not very high. Your toddler can see the x-ray machines, hear the sounds of the dental vacuum, and possibly get a sample of fluoride. This experience makes the next visit more comfortable for the toddler because the dentist’s office doesn’t seem so strange or scary the second time around.
4. Play Pretend
When you and your toddler are engaging in playtime, spend some time pretending to be dentists. You can set up a pretend dentist’s office in your child’s room. Use stuffed animals and dolls as patients. Imagine how much fun you and your toddler will have pretending to clean the stuffed animals’ teeth and pretending to check the dolls’ mouths for cavities. You can buy your child a real toothbrush and dental mirror to use when pretending to be the dentist. Allowing your little one to spend some time in the role of the dentist can show him that the dentist isn’t scary after all.
5. Give a Little Control
One reason your toddler may not want to open his mouth for the dentist is that he’s scared. Your toddler doesn’t want to give up control. It’s perfectly okay to give your toddler a little bit of control at the dentist’s office. Teach your child that he can speak up if he feels uncomfortable or if something hurts. For example, your child can raise his right hand if he needs to take a break for a moment and close his mouth. Be sure to tell the dentist that if your child needs a break, he will raise his right hand. Most dentists will comply with this request. If a toddler knows he can control what happens, he may be more likely to open his mouth.
6. A Treat for Great Behavior
Keep in mind that you are asking your toddler to act like a big kid for a dentist’s visit. Be sure to play up the idea that your little one is such an awesome big kid by opening his mouth and letting the dentist do his work. It may be helpful to explain to your toddler that he will get a reward for excellent behavior at the dentist’s office. You might promise to buy your toddler a small toy or even a special dessert. Knowing there will be a reward for being brave at the dentist’s office can help a nervous child through the dental visit. Many dentists also have a prize box for kids, so they can choose a special treat for doing a good job at the dentist’s office.
7. Be a Model
One trick many parents find helpful is to be the dental patient first. You can schedule your dental check-up before your child’s appointment. It is a good idea to pull up a chair right beside you, so your toddler can watch the dentist perform a dental exam on you. This gives your child a chance to see the dentist in action. Also, your child can see that you are not in pain. When your appointment is over, you can simply switch seats and let your child take his turn while you sit beside him.
8. Take a Friend
One other idea to help your toddler feel comfortable in the dentist’s chair is to take a stuffed animal friend along for this visit. A stuffed animal gives your little one something to hold and squeeze throughout the visit. Additionally, the dentist can perform each action on the stuffed animal before he touches your toddler. Your little one doesn’t have to go through the experience alone with a stuffed friend by his side.
9. Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling to get your child to open his mouth at the dentist. The dental hygienists and dentists have extensive experience helping children feel comfortable in the dentist’s chair. Ask what strategies have been successful with other children to see what they can recommend. They may have child-friendly chairs or special tools that don’t look quite so scary they can use. It never hurts to ask!