Dear Dr Ellis,
How do I go about scheduling my children for their first dental appointment? And how do I make it so they aren’t afraid?
Some children enjoy coming to the dentist and actually look forward to it. Others, not so much. Your children’s oral health is very important, but forcing a stressed, scared child into a dentist chair can be quite a daunting task. As a parent, it’s important for you to know that dental anxiety is common in children and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, most pediatric and family dental practices have experience working with children that have dental anxiety.
Some cases of pediatric dental anxiety can be much stronger than others. In extreme cases, dental anxiety can impact your child’s dental health for the rest of their life which is why we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you keep your child from developing dental anxiety, and to assist you with reducing their anxiety.
Simple Tips for Managing Pediatric Dental Anxiety
- Read Dental Storybooks to Your Kids
Dental books for kids are an excellent way to help reduce the fear of visiting the dentist. Through colorful illustrations, easy to understand language, and a happy dental experience for the main character, your child can develop a better understanding of what to expect at the dentist. Below are a few recommendations:
- Start Dental Visits While They’re Young
Most pediatricians advise parents to bring their kids in for a first visit as soon as their first tooth appears or no later than their first birthday. Taking your child in for an early dental checkup is not only good for their oral health, but also helps them become familiar with the dentist office at an early age. Starting routine visits early in life is a perfect way to help them feel comfortable and build trust with their dentist. We have found that bringing a child in for the first time when they are around 3, or can grasp an understanding of what is going on, to be the most successful. Of course all children are different, but once they understand what they are going to do, they seem to have a much more positive experience.
- Play “Dentist” at Home
Before taking your child to their dental appointments, it can be beneficial to practice being a dental patient leading up to the visit. Let your child role-play by pretending to be the dentist, and examine and clean your teeth. Then, let them pretend to be the patient and you can pretend to be the dentist, showing them how to clean and count their teeth. They can also practice with their dolls or stuffed animals. With a chair, a mirror, and toothbrush, it’s easy to set up a pretend dental visit in your own home. It is also recommended to bring them in with you to your dental appointment and let them watch and see how easy and fun it can be!
- Communicate, But Keep it Simple
Telling your child about a dental appointment at the last minute can increase stress and anxiety. If your child is showing signs of fear and anxiety about the dentist, be sure to give them ample time to mentally prepare themselves for the visit. It can be a good idea to tell your child about the upcoming dental appointment in advance, and then continually remind them as the date approaches.
Be sure to ask your child if he/she has any questions prior to the appointment and try to answer them honestly. Avoid using vague statements like “everything will be fine”. While this may be true, if your child does end up needing dental treatment, that statement could be the source of reduced trust in both you and the dentist.
Do use phrases like “the dentist just wants to check your smile and count your teeth”, and stick to words like “clean”, “healthy”, and “strong” to make them excited about seeing the dentist.
- Go to a Family Dentist
When taking care of the dental health for your kids, seeing a family dentist is usually your best option. The advantage of working with family-focused dental practice is that they’re prepared and experienced dealing with children and ensuring children have a great dental experience.
Family dental practices like ours, know that small details matter. Whether it’s a children’s toys or books in the waiting area to relax while they’re waiting to be seen by the dentist, , providing nitrous oxide for procedures, or the way the staff interacts with you and the child, the small details do matter.
- Teach Kid’s the Importance of Great Oral Health and Lead By Example.
Teaching your kids the importance of great oral hygiene is a worthy investment in their overall health. Set expectations of what keeping healthy, strong teeth looks like; brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting the dentist on a regular basis. Remind them that dentists are friendly doctors for their teeth, and that they’re here to help keep their smile strong and beautiful.
Most importantly, you have to lead by example. Children can develop their fear and pediatric dental anxiety from their parents. If you’re anxious about their dental visit, then they’re also going to be anxious about their dental visit. However, if they see you taking care of your teeth everyday and getting excited to go see the dentist every six months, they’ll probably do the same.