No matter how many “trip to the dentist” episodes in their favorite cartoons your children have watched, that first appointment can be a scary one. Once they start getting old enough to understand what is going on, what can you do to prepare your child for a trip to the dentist?

Bring Them With You

Be sure you clear this with your dentist first, but if it’s OK with them, bring your little one along to one of your dental appointments. Don’t opt for a cavity filling or a root canal for this appointment — you don’t want something that’s going to scare them. However, if you have an annual cleaning coming up, this is a great opportunity to show your children what a dentist does while they’re working on your teeth.

Go With a Pediatric Dentist

Depending on where you live, you might have a dentist on every other corner — but you want to make sure you find a pediatric dentist for your child’s first visit. Regular dentists may accept children as patients, but to keep this first visit less stressful, a pediatric dentist is the best choice. They are specially trained to treat younger patients, and many have child-friendly offices that are designed to make little ones more comfortable.

Shop Around

Just because you’ve decided to choose a pediatric dentist doesn’t mean you have to choose the first dentist on the list. Take some time to shop around — call each office and ask to come in for a walkthrough and to talk to the staff. Seeing how they work and how they handle different patients can be a great way to get a feel for whether or not this office will be a good choice for your family.

While you’re shopping around, avoid offices that won’t let you come in for a visit. It might be policy, but it might also mean that they’ve got something to hide and you don’t want to do business with them.

Make Sure You Can Be Involved

For your child’s first trip to the dentist, you want them to be as comfortable as possible. Try to find a dentist that will allow you to be in the room with your child during their exam. Some may even allow your child to sit on your lap for the first couple of visits until they become more comfortable.

Having your child go back for their exam or cleaning by themselves is a rite of passage, but forcing them to do it when they’re not comfortable with it could make them hate the dentist. No one really likes to go to the dentist, but it’s a lot easier to get your kids in for their cleanings if they’re not terrified of that dentist chair.

Break Out the Books

Do you have a nightly ritual of reading a book or two before bed? Try introducing a couple of titles that are designed to help get your kid ready for the dentist. The Little Critter series by Mercer Mayer has one, “Just Going to the Dentist,” as does Dora the Explorer and many others. These books take what can be a scary trip to the dentist and explain it in easy-to-understand words read by characters they already love.

You don’t have to make a big deal out of reading these new books — just start incorporating them into your nightly reading ritual once or twice a week to introduce this concept to your little ones.

Keep up With It at Home

Annual cleanings are a great thing, but they’re not enough on their own to keep your kids’ teeth healthy. Make sure you keep up with their dental hygiene at home the other 364 days of the year. If your kids have been slacking on their brushing or flossing, their dentist will be able to see it. Don’t lie to try to make yourself look better — you just end up making yourself look foolish.

Avoid sugary drinks and sticky candies, and make sure your kids are brushing and flossing properly twice a day. Their first appointment will probably reinforce these techniques, but it’s a lot easier on the dentist if you’ve already established a teeth-cleaning regimen in your children.

Good dental hygiene is one of the most important skills you can teach your children. Teaching them that heading to the dentist on a regular basis is just as important will serve them throughout their lives. Just try to make sure their first visits aren’t stressful, because if your children learn to associate the dentist with stress or fear, it will take bribery and an act of God to get them into that office.

Make their first few visits comfortable and they will learn to see the annual cleaning as a necessary part of life, rather than something to be afraid of.