Tips to Prepare Your Child for a Dentist Visit

Guest Authored By Ashley M, MS, OTR/L

Trips to the dentist can be overwhelming for children and seem like a daunting task for parents. Below are a few tips you can use to help prepare your child for their appointment. Don’t forget to consult with your occupational therapist for more strategies and supports as you plan your child’s next dentist visit. 

  1. Create a visual calendar. Count down the days until the appointment so that your child knows when it is coming.   
  2. Create a social story. Talk about their upcoming trip to the dentist office using a social story. Break down each step of the visit so that they understand what to expect from the visit.  
  3. Role play. Role playing is a great way to introduce the concept of going to the dentist. Practice taking dolls and/or animals to the dentist. Have your child practice checking their toy’s mouth, then your mouth. Once they become more comfortable with the idea, you can check their mouth so that they are more prepared to open wide for the dentist. You can try things such as counting or tapping their teeth so they can become familiar with the sensations in their mouth.

  4. Watch videos. Watch realistic videos of people visiting the dentist. You can also check to see if your dentist office has any videos or pictures online so that your child can become familiar with the office spaceDaniel Tiger is also a great resource. 
  5. Do a trial run. Take some time to introduce your child to the dentist office before your scheduled visit. You can say hi, sit in a chair, and ask your dentist if they can show your child some of the tools they will be using. This will help your child familiarize themselves with the environment and tools to ease some uncertainty around the experience.  
  6. Discuss your child’s needs with the dentist. It is important to communicate your child’s needs with the dentist so that they are aware of what they can do to help your child through their visit. You may want to discuss behavior strategies that have worked or special considerations such as showing equipment before using it, notifying when approaching to touch, telling the child what they are doing, etc. 
  7. Use sensory strategies. The dentist office can be a scary place for a child with all the noises, lights, and unfamiliar sensations. Consider your child’s unique sensory needs and bring your sensory tools to help them stay calm. This might include headphones, sunglasses, playing white noise or calming music, bringing a weighted vest or lap pad, and bringing fidgets or a stress ball to squeeze.  
  8. Bring visual reminders/schedules. Create a visual schedule depicting the steps of their dentist visit. Make sure to ask the dentist what steps and procedures will take place during their visit (e.g., xrays) to best prepare your child.