Using Play to Prepare for a Dental Checkup

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The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child’s first dental checkup be when they get their first tooth or by the age of one. Yes, this may seem ridiculous to some parents and they question how on earth would a dentist clean my baby’s four teeth? But they do.

It is recommended for a couple of reasons. One to examine the gums, teeth and evaluate the child’s growth. The second is to help instill healthy habits to both the child and parents. The third is to help the child become familiar with dental examinations.

I agree with the recommendations and believe in prevention of decay versus having my child suffer through a filling. Both my husband and I don’t have the best history with our teeth and want to do everything in our power to make sure our kid’s smiles stay healthy and strong.

I let my son play dentist at home to become familiar with the dental tools, gain a sense of control and have a better understanding of what to expect during his checkup. It’s just like medical play.Rex2

Tools that can be used:

  • Doll/stuffed animal with teeth
  • Gloves
  • Tooth Paste
  • Mask
  • Electric Toothbrush (if you have one)
  • Floss
  • Paper Towel and Paper Clip
  • Q-Tips
  • Dixie Cup

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Personally, I had a really challenging time as a child going to the dentist. I was traumatized so often that I carried those feelings of anxiety with me into adulthood. I have learned ways to cope and have been much better, not having panic attacks and crying in a dentist’s chair. Oh, yeah I cried, many times.

My husband and I have found a wonderful pediatric dentist that is just amazing. I think that it is really important to bring your child to a pediatric dentist versus a dentist that primarily works on adults. I wouldn’t have my kids go to my physician, so why would I have them go to my dentist?

There are also games and activities that kid’s can play online. Colgate offers a great site for kids ages 2-9 years.

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Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is a wonderful way for kids to act out different roles and express themselves. Providing dress up costumes, pretend real life items (kitchen set, tool box, medical kit) encourages them to get into character. It’s a fun way for parents to become kids again too. Get on the floor, put on a tiara, a cape and drift into your child’s imagination.

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As a parent I love watching my son put on his police uniform and get into character. He is no longer Gavin, he has now transformed into Officer Gavin. I watch him go on rescue missions, capture the bad guys and call for back up on his radio. He idolizes rescue workers and super heroes. Who would’t? Its a fascinating world through the eyes of a child.IMG_7183 IMG_9643

Dramatic play is also a great tool to help children express their feelings and gain mastery over an experience. Child life specialists use it to help children with their hospitalization. Children can pretend to be a doctor, nurse or anything that they choose. They can process what they have experienced through their common language; play.

Parents and caregivers can do this as well. Children who have a difficult time eating or sensory issues with food can play this out as a cook in the kitchen. After a child has visited the dentist or doctor, they can play out their experience with a doll or stuffed animal. I personally have played a rescue worker with my son to play out his experience with Hurricane Sandy. When your child continues to play the same role and theme over and over again, it is a sign that they are still processing what they experienced.

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