Up to 20% of children have dental fear and anxiety, and some may even be so afraid that their fear qualifies as a phobia.
When kids are scared of the dentist, it can create some high-stress situations that are not pleasant for everyone involved. But with some patience and perseverance, you can turn dentist appointments into something pleasant.
If your child has an appointment soon, here are 7 gentle tips on how to ease their fear of going to the dentist.
1. Drop by Before Their Appointment
Before your child’s actual appointment, try and drop by the dental office so they can familiarize themselves with it. A lot of the time, children become scared in new environments. Eliminate that factor by letting your kid get to meet the team and learn the office surroundings.
If possible, try and get each staff member to have a little chat with your child, including the dentist if they’re available. By getting to know these people, your kid will be less anxious and more comfortable for their actual appointment.
2. Don’t Use Negative Language
It’s already scary enough having to get dental work; your child shouldn’t have to worry about potentially scary things. While you may want to be upfront and honest with them, it’s best to avoid negative words, such as “pain” and “hurt.”
Try and make your kid understand that the dentist and their team are there to help them become stronger and healthier, not to punish them for having cavities. Positive reinforcement goes a lot farther than negative in encouraging your child to take good care of their teeth.
3. Practice at Home
Again, your child’s familiarity with things will provide significant comfort when they go in for their appointment. Not only should you bring them in prior to the big day, but you should also practice at home so they know what to expect.
Sit your child down in a chair and pretend you’re the dentist. Show them how their teeth will be inspected by using a mirror and either your hands or some utensils to represent the dental tools.
You’ll want to avoid making scary noises (like dental drills) so you don’t scare your kid even more. Remember to keep things positive — compliment your child on how healthy their teeth look.
4. Don’t Complicate Things
Transparency is good to have with your children, but sometimes, explaining too much can confuse them and add to their anxiety. They may have tons of questions surrounding their upcoming visit, and it’s perfectly fine to answer them all as succinctly as possible.
However, don’t guarantee that everything will go perfectly and that they won’t have any procedures to go through. While this may assuage any fears prior to the appointment, this can backfire if they end up needing major dental work. This can cause your kid to be distrustful of both you and the dentist.
5. Bring Them to Your Appointments
You’re a huge role model to your kids, which means if their hero can do something, they can do it too. If you have a checkup soon, bring your child with you so they can see exactly what the dentist does. They can see how friendly everyone is and how there’s nothing scary going on at the appointment.
The only time where this would be a bad idea is if you yourself have anxiety surrounding dental visits. If this is the case, your child will pick up on your energy and this may add more negative feelings surrounding their upcoming appointment. Should you have dental fears and anxieties of your own, it’s best to leave your child at home for your visits.
6. Don’t Make Promises of Rewards
This tip may seem counter-intuitive since we emphasized positive reinforcement above. But by promising rewards after the appointment, this may make your child more apprehensive about it. If it’s really not such a big deal, then how come Mommy needs to give me something afterward?
You can plan to reward them after a good dental visit, but don’t allude to it beforehand. You can do some research and see what amenities the office has, such as video game systems. That way, you can tell your kid ahead of time what’s waiting for them at their visit and they’ll feel better about it.
7. Remember to Be Patient and Understanding
The first visit will always be the hardest one. Try and put yourself in your child’s shoes — they’re being taken somewhere they’ve probably never been before, and they’re getting an examination as well. Kids will take out their anxieties by throwing tantrums and crying, which can really test your patience.
But by losing your own temper at them, this can compound on their fears and anxieties. If you ever feel like you can’t handle your child’s emotions, take a quick break in another room and come back when you’ve calmed down. By showing your kid that you can handle the situation level-headedly, it can deescalate any tense moments.
At the appointment, make sure to hold your child’s hand when the situation calls for it, but also be prepared to step back if the dentist feels like the two of them need some breathing room. The pediatric dentist will have years of training and experience in dealing with young patients, so trust in their judgment calls.
Going to the Dentist Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal
While many children fear going to the dentist, it doesn’t have to be a permanent phobia. With lots of patience and support, you can make appointments a fun thing, or at least something your child shouldn’t be afraid of. Remember to always use positive reinforcement to get the best results possible.
If it’s time for your kid to get a dental appointment, please make one with us now.