BY NANCY FLANDERS Many parents are anxious about the dentist themselves, or are nervous about getting their child to sit in the dental chair calmly and happily. Either way, skipping out on the dentist can lead to dental health problems for your child. The first step to take is to locate a pediatric dentist in your area. Taking a child to a pediatric dentist will make a big difference in your child’s dental experience. But there’s even more you can do as a parent to help your child like going to the dentist. Know Your Child Some children like to have a heads up before they go to a doctor’s appointment. They prefer to know in advance because it gives them time to prepare. For other children, knowing in advance leads to anxiety as they wait for the day to approach. Depending on the age and personality of your child, give her as much or as little advanced notice as you see fit. Prepare Letting your child know what to expect is important. You can prepare your child by watching a video or reading a book about the dentist. You can talk about how the dentist will look at and clean your child’s teeth, and you can model good dental office behavior by letting your child play dentist and look at your teeth. Accentuate the Positive Parents should avoid words like “hurt” and “afraid”. Even though we have good intentions when telling a child that something won’t hurt or won’t be scary, we’ve now planted the idea of hurt and fear in her mind. She will wonder why you even brought those words up and her red flags will go up. You should also refrain from using this language after the dentist. Don’t say “That wasn’t so bad” or, “You were so brave” as this implies that there is something about what the dentist did that was frightening. Time It Right Schedule your child’s appointment during a time of day in which your child is rested and alert. If your child is sleepy and can get cranky in the afternoon, making the appointment for 2 p.m. is a big mistake. Schedule the appointment during the morning hours when your child is more likely to be happy and agreeable. Give Power Letting your child have some level of power will help her feel in control at the dentist. Give her choices such as whether or not to bring her favorite stuffed animal, whether she will hold her toy or you will, which toothbrush she wants, and which sticker or toy she wants from the choices your dentist probably has available for kids. Make It Fun Create a special book for your child’s visits to the doctor and dentist. It can be a sticker book or a photo album. At each visit, bring the book and place your child’s new sticker in it, or take a picture for her album. You or she can write how she felt about going to the dentist or doctor and you can refer to the book before her next appointment, reminding her that the dentist can be fun. Special Needs Children Some children with special needs will be more susceptible to tooth decay due to a specific health condition or regularly taken medication. And while parents may want to avoid the dentist because it’s yet another appointment for their child, it is vital to take them. Pediatric dentists have two or more years of advanced training beyond dental school that focuses on care for children with special needs, and pediatric dental offices are designed to be accessible for patients with special needs. Prepare your child to go to the dentist the same way you would any child, in a manner that is appropriate for her age, understanding, and personality. The dentist may not be your favorite place to go, but you can still make the experience enjoyable and even exciting for your child.