Preparing kids for their next dental appointment

July 23, 2020

briney-lynseChicago Dental Society member and pediatric dentist Lynse Briney, DDS, has put together some recommendations to prepare your kids for their next dental appointment.

Whether you plan to send your kids back to school in the fall or continue with remote learning, making the same back-to-school preparations is essential for setting kids up for a successful and healthy school year. Along with buying new clothes and supplies, health checkups should not be overlooked.

In addition to a routine physical, seeing your dentist for a cleaning and checkup prior to the start of school can significantly improve your child’s academic experience and performance by preventing any potential problems that could become painful and distracting. Research shows that dental disease causes kids to miss more than 51 million school hours each year.

What to expect

If you and your family haven’t been to the dentist since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, things will look a little different when you return. Perhaps one of the most significant changes to be prepared for is the possibility that you may be asked to drop off your child and wait in the car or remain in the waiting room while they head back to the treatment room to help with social distancing.

While this may be a new experience for some children, it is also an opportunity for them to build confidence and exercise some independence in a safe environment. As their dentist, I appreciate the opportunity to get to know my patients better one-one-one – and it gives parents a much-needed break too. Win win!

Before the first dentist visit after quarantine, take the time to remind your kids what a trip to the dentist usually entails and explain the new safety measures and protocols that have been implemented as a result of COVID-19. For children who have only been to the dentist once or twice, act out the visit with someone else or with a friendly stand-in, like a stuffed animal.

Some of the changes to expect and prepare kids for include:

  • A health screening will likely be conducted online or via phone prior to the appointment, and possibly again on-site.
  • If your child spends time in another household or in programs, such as daycare or team sport activities, please make sure to self-screen and reschedule their appointment if anyone in the family presents COVID-19 symptoms or has been around anyone with symptoms in the last 14 days.
  • Fewer and staggered appointment times will likely be offered to allow ample time between patients for thorough disinfection and preparation of treatment rooms, and to limit the number of people in the office at a given time. Your dentist may also ask that you only bring the child or children scheduled for an appointment that day.
  • Hand sanitizing and temperature checks will be requested upon arrival, and wearing a mask while you are in the office is required. If your child has never had his or her temperature taken with a touchless thermometer, act it out with them so they understand. A wand makes a great substitute!
  • Communal items, such as toys, magazine and remotes, may be removed from waiting rooms, so plan on bringing your own toy, book or entertainment while you wait.
  • It’s also important to talk to your child about how the dentist may look different and will be wearing additional protective gear, especially if they haven’t been out much and seen others in masks. Dentists and hygienists will likely be wearing scrubs and full body gowns, hair coverings, masks and face shields – make it fun and tell them that their dentist has always wanted to be an astronaut or scuba diver, and they are trying out some of the gear!

Most importantly, offer positive reinforcement and remind children that trips to the dentist are part of staying strong and healthy. Even before the pandemic, visiting the dentist was a new and sometimes fearful experience for children. Encouraging healthy oral habits at home is a good way to exercise positive reinforcement and reward healthy habits. As we adults know, taking care of your teeth at home is the best way to make the experience at the dentist’s office more pleasant.