If your child is nervous or afraid to visit the dentist, you are not alone!
It is important that your child regularly visits the dentist, not only to keep his or her teeth and gums healthy but also to develop good oral hygiene habits at an early age. But it is very normal for a majority of children to be afraid of going to the dentist. This fear can range from mild nervousness to being terrified in which case the child can scream and wail hysterically.
Reasons for being afraid:
There are many reasons for this fear, which is absolutely real in children. A fear of separation from the parent plays a major role in very young children, especially toddlers. Going to the dentist is involuntarily linked with going to the doctor or Pediatrician where they get vaccinations and have not so pleasant experiences. Sometimes, we as adults, inadvertently pass on our stories at the dentist to the child with words like pain, injection, sharp etc. Other times adults use it as a threat that the child will be taken to the dentist as a way to deter bad behavior. A friend of your child might have had a bad dental experience and in narrating the story has passed on the fear to your child. Past negative dental experiences are obviously a big reason for the child’s anxiety.
This anxiety should be addressed as soon as possible so that it does not hamper the child from receiving the necessary dental care.
A combination of the above reasons can make your child afraid about a dental visit. But do not worry! Here are some easy and simple ways to allay your child’s fear and make sure that your child feels comfortable at the dentist.
1. Earlier the better: The first visit to the dentist, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, should be at and around an age when the first baby tooth erupts in the mouth and no later than age one year. You might wonder as to why so early since there are hardly any teeth present in the child’s mouth. These early visits give the dentist an opportunity to catch dental problems at an early stage before they become more serious and painful and also give the parents instructions on how to prevent them. With just a checkup and cleaning, your child will have a much easier visit, reducing any fear or nervousness. He will become more familiar and comfortable with the dental environment.
2. Dress rehearsal: This is for children who have never been to the dentist before. Try a role play and a pretend visit to the dentist. With you playing the role of the dentist, using a soft toy as the patient, count and brush the toys teeth. Now make your child do the same. In an older child, if possible, you can also take your child a few days prior to the appointment to see the dentist’s office. Introduce your child to the front desk and the dentist if possible. So now when it’s time for the real appointment it will not be a completely strange place.
3. Fun First visit: This is in accordance with starting early. Since you have already started early, before your child has any problems that need immediate treatment, it will be ensured that the first visit is fun and comfortable. If any treatment is needed, you will have the liberty to schedule it for the next appointment. This is crucial to develop the necessary trust and bond with the dentist. But on the other hand if your child’s first trip to the dentist is due to a painful tooth needing an urgent filing or tooth extraction, then he will always associate anxiety with dental visits.
4. Fear of separation: If your child is overly afraid of being separated from you, then talk to the dentist and convey this fear. See if you can accompany the child inside the examination area. The child can also carry his favorite stuffed toy to the dentist, increasing his sense of security.
5. Prepare your child mentally: From a child’s point of view, the dentist’s office is a very strange place with all the different equipment, the funny looking dental chair, various noises and smells. Children take time to adjust to unfamiliar situations. They may host a fear of getting injured. A lot of children have fear of the unknown as they do not know what to expect. Tell the child in advance of the dentist appointment. Make it sound routine and help them realize it is a non-threatening place. Answer their questions. Keep it simple and do not give away too many details as it will lead to more questions. Do not use threatening words like ‘injections’, ‘shot, ‘needle’, ‘hurt’, ‘pain’, ‘blood’, etc. associated with the dentist. Instead you can say ‘ everyone goes to the dentist to keep their teeth healthy’, ‘the dentist is going to count your teeth’ and ‘clean the sugar bugs with a special tooth brush that squirts water’ etc.
6. Don’t scare your child with your dental experience: Be careful of how and what you speak about your dental visit in front of your child. Children are like the sponge and absorb from their environment easily. They are smart observers. Besides words, our body language plays a role too. Adults unknowingly paint a scary picture for children about the dentist. In doing so they pass on their anxieties and negative experiences to their children. Remember that your child might need something totally different from the treatment that you needed.
7. Make an appointment with a kid friendly dentist: Look for a dentist who has experience in treating children or a Pediatric Dentist, who has received specialized education in treating children. Such dentists usually have a dental clinic that looks friendly for the child, with toys, a play area, TV etc. Such dentists use kid friendly words to describe the procedure to the child to help him feel at ease.
Very small children can whine and wriggle or sometimes cry. This is normal and the dentists who have experience in treating young kids have the tricks and the tactics to deal with this. They will guide you depending upon your child’s behavior and need. You might have to sit in the dental chair with the child in your lap, which will make the child less fearful. At times they might tell you to be a little away or hold the child’s hand as a reassurance. Inform the dentist beforehand in case your child had an earlier poor dental experience.
8. At the dentist: Children can easily pick up on your fears. So make sure you are portraying yourself as relaxed and comfortable. No matter how you feel, you have to create an appearance of calm and positivity. Any fearful expression or words that you utter will make matters difficult.
9. Positive reinforcement: At the end of the visit make sure you reward your child with positive words of encouragement. Don’t give any toys or gifts as a reward as it sends a wrong message.
10. Help your children value their dental health: It is your role as the parent to educate your child on the importance of healthy and strong teeth. Even if your child is done with the dental appointment and does not have to go back for some time, emphasize on the fact that besides taking care of teeth at home it is also crucial to visit the dentist regularly. In time your child will start to value visiting the dentist.
Thus we as adults, have to consciously make an attempt to make our children feel safe and familiar at the dentist and make their dental experience a pleasant one.