Link copied to clipboard

Maybe your child has his first dental appointment on the horizon. Or maybe it’s his second or third or fourth and he knows what’s coming and is ready to rebel. How can you make going to the dentist less traumatic and maybe a bit less scary?

You might try pretending.

Start as far ahead of an upcoming dental appointment as you can and making playing “going to the dentist” part of the fun. Get a little dental mirror and a toothbrush for playing with, find an old bib, even play under a gooseneck lamp, if you have one. Then take turns being the dentist and the patient.

Make certain that you are the patient and your child is the dentist at least half the time. Start by sitting in the “waiting room,” reading books. Pretend to be called into the examining area. Let your child-dentist make a big deal out of counting your teeth, tapping them carefully, and inspecting things with that little mirror. Then switch roles.

While going to the dentist is something we adults know about, children do not. But if we simply drive to the dentist’s office and expect our child to permit this stranger to poke around in her mouth – well, we’re expecting an awful lot. No wonder most children make a fuss.

This isn’t to say that your child won’t make a fuss, even if you practice and pretend. He very well might. There’s a big difference between making believe at home and doing something for real in a strange place with strange people. So along with practicing going to the dentist, you might practice some calming techniques.

When you are pretending to be the patient and your child is pretending to be the dentist, say, “I’m feeling afraid right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths to help myself feel better.” Then do that – take some deep breaths. Or say, “I’m going to think some good thoughts so I won’t feel worried.” Then do that – pretend to think good thoughts and say what you’re thinking of. Switch roles and see if your child adds these techniques in.

Role-playing new situations is an important way to let children know what to expect and to help them feel more in control. Pretending is useful for all sorts of new or infrequent experiences, like going to the doctor, getting a haircut, flying in an airplane, and so on. If you haven’t used pretending as a way to guide your child, give it a try.

Your child’s dentist may thank you!