Try as we might, sometimes the dentist can seem like a scary place for children. However, there are things both you and your dentist can do to ease the process for your child and make him less afraid of the dentist.
We do our best to make our office as open and as friendly as possible for your child, down to showing them each tool we use and explaining the process in a way they can understand. However, that may not always be what your child sees. He may hear a lot of unfamiliar sounds and see a lot of foreign metal instruments around him. Even if your first visit went well, the second may not.
The bristles of a brush get teeth cleaner than a cloth. As soon as the first tooth sprouts, start a routine of brushing your child’s teeth twice a day. As much as he may squirm away from you, it is very important that his teeth be brushed before bed. It can be a tough process sometimes, but your child is not capable of brushing his teeth effectively until he’s around six years old. He will need your help until then, and the benefits of keeping his teeth healthy will certainly pay off in fewer cavities and toothaches.
Avoid talking to your child about your own dental experiences, and don’t bring your child to any of your own appointments to get her acquainted with the dentist office. This can do more harm than good, as your child is seeing you in a more vulnerable position and he can read any anxiety or pain you may be feeling.
If your child is ever having a tantrum at the dentist’s office, remember to stay calm. Her dentist may ask for your assistance in these moments, and your child will take more cues from you than anyone else in the room. If you remain collected and reassuring through her anxiety, it will help to calm her down.
Provided she is of age to understand you, make sure your child knows she has a dentist appointment coming up well in advance. Be positive about it. Children react better to a predictable routine, so if your child knows when to expect her appointment, you’ll be minimizing any anxiety she may be feeling, and she will likely be more accommodating.
Just don’t be too detailed in describing what the appointment entails. She may benefit from knowing when her appointment is, but not what goes into it. She may end up having more questions for you, which can actually raise her anxiety levels.
Also avoid misleading her, or telling her the appointment will be fine. If it doesn’t go well, she may not trust her experiences at the dentist during her next visit.
With the Dentist
Your dentist is trained to recognize patient behaviours, including when someone is feeling anxious.
First and foremost, the dentist office should be a relaxing place for your child. This means avoiding any language dealing with pain or discomfort. Dentists will often detail the process with your child first, showing off tools, and even demonstrating the process on himself or herself first, in order to make your child feel more comfortable. Sometimes having your child hold the tools himself can bring him a sense of control during the appointment.
Your dentist may distract your child with a story or conversation beforehand, or ask your child to imagine a pleasant place or memory. Sometimes bringing a toy from the waiting room to the dentist’s chair can be a good distraction for your child, or having him count something in the room.
Lastly, giving positive reinforcement throughout the check-up can be very helpful in getting your child to cooperate during his check-up—this could include rewarding him with small toys or stickers or allowing him to pick his own reward out of a box. However, he must value the reward or else this method will not be effective during following visits.
The methods we use are in service of seeing your child’s dental appointment through to the end. It is important that we complete treatment with your child; to maintain the health and development of her teeth, but also to allow her to understand a regular visit to her dentist. Dental anxiety comes from not knowing what to expect, and going through a full appointment will allow her to set realistic expectations and face her next appointment more bravely.