The importance of establishing good oral hygiene habits early cannot be overstated, and one of the best ways to ensure that your child is on the right track is to schedule regular dental checkups. Just as with adults, it is recommended that children be seen by a dentist once every six months.
But, what if your child fears the dentist? After all, the sights and sounds of the dentist and his staff, as well as the invasive tools they use, can be intimidating to adults. Just imagine the experience through the eyes of a child. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help alleviate your child’s fear of the dentist, so he can get the attention he needs to ensure that his teeth remain as healthy as possible. Here are five simple ways you can help relieve your child of the fear associated with visiting the dentist.
Choose a Pediatric Dentist
The first (and most important) thing you can do to help minimize or eliminate your child’s fear of the dentist is to ensure that your child has a pediatric dentist. The office and procedures of pediatric dentists are geared specifically toward children. The walls are typically painted in child-friendly murals, the waiting rooms are stocked with toys and children’s books, and the dentist and his staff have been specially trained to treat children.
A child’s first visit to the dentist should either be scheduled when his or her first tooth is visible, or by the age of one. Yes, children that young can and should be seen by a dentist. Of course, the dentist more than likely won’t be doing anything more than introducing your child to the dental experience, so to speak. Your child will sit in the examination chair while the dentist introduces him or her to the dental equipment and performs a quick, gentle examination. Even if no work is done, your child’s first visit to the dentist will lay a positive foundation for future dental appointments, which will help alleviate his fears early on.
Since you are likely already actively engaged in playing with your child, try role playing a trip to the dentist. Each of you can take turns being the dentist and the patient. Alternatively, a favorite doll or stuffed animal can play the role of the patient while your child is the dentist. The only things you really need are a chair, a mirror and a toothbrush. The goal is to get your child acquainted with the procedure so that he is more comfortable during the actual dental appointment.
Lead by Example
When you have a dental checkup scheduled for yourself, consider taking your child along with you and allow him to sit in the room and watch your interaction with the dentist. When you demonstrate that there is nothing to fear, your child will pick up on it, and that will alleviate his concerns about his own future visits. Avoid taking your child if you plan on having any major work done, though, as the sound of the instruments may create anxiety.
If, however, you are a parent who feels anxious about dental visits, do not take him with you. Do your best to shield that fear from your child. Just as a child will pick up on the fact that his parent doesn’t fear the dentist, he will just as easily tune into a parent who is afraid. Also, don’t use negative descriptions, or share negative dental experiences with your child. Chances are that he will carry that anxiety with him to his next dental appointment.
Keep It Simple and Honest
When discussing the dentist with your child, always be honest, but keep it as simple as possible. Avoid making general statements such as “it will be fine”, however, because if your child does end up needing a cavity filled, for example, he won’t consider that to be ‘fine’ and he may lose trust in both you and the dentist. Instead, limit the conversation to the basics, and try not to include too many details. Children compartmentalize information a lot differently than adults do, and new experiences can be particularly scary. If you give your child too much detailed information it will cause unnecessary anxiety leading up to the appointment.
It is also recommended that you not use certain words with your child, including ‘shot’, ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’. The dental staff will have their own vocabulary that they use, such as “looking for sugar bugs” when cleaning the child’s teeth.
When you introduce your child to the dentist office experience early in life, and take him to a pediatric dentist, you help set the tone for all future visits. By role playing, leading by example and being honest you also help foster a sense of trust and positive expectations. A trip to the dentist doesn’t have to be traumatic. In fact, it only takes a few simple steps to set your child on the path to a lifetime of positive dental experiences.