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Rx For Dentist-Trip Jitters

If you followed the official recommendation, you took your child to the dentist as soon as her first pearly white popped through -- around age 1. Back then she was too young to be nervous beforehand (and she probably doesn't even remember the experience).

Now that she's older and it's time for a real checkup and cleaning, she might be apprehensive about what's to come. How best to prepare her for the sharp instruments, the whirring machinery, and a stranger's hand in her mouth? Some tips to help your child (and you) relax:

Give her a sneak preview. Take her with you to your next checkup, to get her used to the sights and sounds and so that she can watch you calmly having your mouth probed and teeth cleaned. She'll see that though the tooth polisher is noisy, it doesn't hurt.

Choose a kid-friendly dentist. Pediatric dentists are trained in child development and understand how to make kids comfortable -- starting with a waiting room stocked with books and toys. Besides having an upbeat, patient "chairside" manner, the dentist should add kid-friendly elements to the exam. Some dentists give kids sunglasses to block out the brightness from the examining lights, and toys to keep their minds off their mouths. Others use puppets to teach proper brushing and offer postexam treats like stickers. Ask your pediatrician for a referral, or check out to find a pediatric dentist near you.

Remember that timing is everything. Make the appointment for a time when you and your child are well rested. If you need to rush back to work or she's tired, the visit will be off to a bad start before you even arrive.

Play around. Starting a week or two before your child's appointment, take turns being the dentist and the patient. Examine each other's teeth with a mirror, and use fingers to count each other's teeth. This way, she'll be familiar with how it'll likely feel when the dentist does it.

Read all about it. Books like What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist explain what tooth doctors do in a way that a kid will understand.