As adults, we know that going to the dentist is a necessary and normal event. It may not always be the most comfortable experience, but we can understand that any poking and prodding is for the benefit of our dental health. Children, however, often don’t have this forgiving knowledge and view the dentist and all of their shining instruments as overwhelmingly scary.
This fear can make bringing your child to the dentist a major challenge. Whether your little one has already had their first appointment and didn’t take it well or has yet to go to the dentist and seems apprehensive about it, there are a few things you can do to make them more comfortable. Let’s explore some of the best tactics to make your child feel less frightened when it’s their turn to sit in the dentist’s chair.
While this tip isn’t very useful for parents with toddlers who have already been to the dentist, it is a great trick for those with babies who haven’t had to go yet. In general, the earlier a child visits a licensed dentist, the more comfortable they will feel in the years to come. It essentially gives your child a “dental home” from a very young age where they know that their trusted dentist tends to their oral hygiene needs. It’s recommended that you bring your child to the dentist when they turn one year old or when their first tooth is visible.
Children learn about a lot of the world through play, so why not apply the same method to dental visits? Start playtime with you pretending to be the dentist and your child as the patient. Count their teeth, starting with the number one or letter A. This will help your little one get used to the idea that the dentist will be touching their teeth. You can also hold up a mirror to show your child how a licensed dentist will look at their teeth and check on their health.
While you’re playing pretend, don’t make drilling noises or pretend to line up dental instruments. This will make the thought of going to the dentist in real life much scarier. Your goal with the pretend visit is to get your child familiar with the routine so that they are more comfortable and prepared during the real visit. You can also have your child play the role of the dentist by counting your teeth or brushing the teeth of a doll or stuffed animal.
If your child learns well through picture books, there are plenty out there focused on dentists. Read a book together that stars one of their favorite characters, such as Dora the Explorer or Spongebob Squarepants, and they can get a better understanding of what to expect.
If your child is a little older, try teaching them that visiting pediatric dentists is something that they have to do. Explain that their teeth need to be strong enough to eat all of the foods they love and that they can only be strong enough if a dentist takes care of them regularly. If you can help your child make the connections between their healthy teeth and being able to eat their favorite snacks, they may be more willing to make it through the preventative care at a dental visit without fuss.
You can also explain to your child what cavities are and how they affect their dental health. About 18.6% of children between the ages of five and 19 have untreated cavities, making it a notable health issue for little ones. When you tell your child that cavities are like an illness for their teeth and that their licensed dentist can provide the care to make their cold go away, they can better understand why dentist appointments are important. Try to keep a no-nonsense attitude when you talk to your child about these issues, as this will let your child one know the true importance.
Many parents talk about the dentist in a specific way without even realizing it. The tendency is to describe the dentist with negative words, such as “hurt,” “pain,” and “shot.” Even if you mention these words just once in relation to the dentist, your child will pick up on it and create negative associations. Avoiding the word “shot” is especially important for kids who have had stressful experiences with needles in the past. While you shouldn’t lie to your child or making empty promises about the visit being free of pain and discomfort, try to not negatively color their experience before it’s happened.
When you offer to bribe your child with treats, they will get the idea that going to a licensed dentist is scary enough to warrant a reward at the end of it. Try to stick to the notion that having a dental check-up is no big deal and is just something that happens every couple of months. After the appointment is over and it all goes well, you can naturally introduce a treat or take them somewhere fun afterward without making a big deal about it. Eventually, your child will intermingle the two experiences in their mind and create a positive association with the dentist.
It’s natural to feel nervous about taking your child to a licensed dentist for the first time. The appointment is a major milestone and starts the attentive care for their oral health. As you’re preparing your little one for their visit, try out some of these tricks. If need be, you can also discuss sedation dentistry for kids. With some persistence and a little bit of luck, your child will be able to go to the dentist with ease.