How to survive the dentist (and why being nice matters)

Helen had her first dental appointment.  I did not expect it to go well, at all.  Of the list of things that can cause her to completely melt down are being leaned back (as in a dentist’s chair), noise, bright lights, unfamiliar situations and anything in her mouth.  Honestly, I would have skipped it altogether had I been able.  But feeding delays can cause all sorts of issues with a child’s mouth and I had already put this off too long.  So, we went.

And it was amazing.

Julie, the dental assistant, went out of her way to help us.  She was patient and seemed to genuinely care about Helen.  She even worked on Cinderella (the doll who came with us, of course) first.  I found out later that a late patient early in the day had caused her to be far behind schedule, yet she gave us all the time we needed.   It was so important that things go well, and Julie made that happen.  Being nice really does matter, sometimes more than we realize.

So what else made this visit work?  Here’s what we did:

Visit the dentist – We scheduled Matthew’s visit for the day before Helen’s appointment.  This allowed us to visit the office and watch what would happen (thank you, Matthew).  I made sure the same assistant saw both children, so she would be familiar to Helen. If you don’t have a big brother, just visiting the office ahead of time can help.  If that isn’t possible, try social stories instead.

Role-play – We played “dentist” many times surrounding this visit.  I made sure Helen had an electric toothbrush (it moves and makes noise, like dentist tools) and even bought latex gloves for her to try on.  We put them in our mouths so the taste would be familiar.

Talk to the office staff – My entire goal for Helen’s visit was that it be a positive experience.  I made it clear to the office staff that I was willing to come back another time (and pay for additional visits), if necessary, to actually check her mouth.  This visit was all about getting her comfortable.  With the assistant who would most be working with Helen, I went over her top triggers and my plans to help her.

Come prepared – We had headphones, her favorite doll, her weighted blanket, clothes with the right tags, everything I could think of to help her be more comfortable.  I also increased her calming therapy routine the morning of the visit to have her as ready as possible.

It was so much work and I’m glad it’s done.  And to Julie, a thousand thank-yous for being so nice.





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