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Regular dental visits are essential in helping your child maintain good dental hygiene. For kids, however, visits to the dentist can be incredibly stressful and scary. Imagine it from your child’s perspective. She is sitting in a strange chair in a strange office with unfamiliar, scary-looking tools and sounds all around her. Strangers are poking cold metal objects into her mouth and possibly even causing pain during cleanings or treatments. Though these experiences can be scary for children, there are several things you can do to help relieve your child’s fear of dental practitioners.
UPDATED – 05-12-17
Begin taking your child to a dental practitioner as soon as his first tooth comes in. Most dentists recommend visiting the office before your child’s first birthday. Try to take your child to a kid-friendly dental practitioner. Pediatric dentists have additional training beyond dental school. They are experts at handling young, scared patients.
Schedule a Meet and Greet
Schedule time for your child to go to the dentist’s office to meet the staff there. Meeting the staff ahead of time and learning what to expect at her dental appointment can help your child feel less afraid when it’s time for her dental exam.
Keep a Positive Attitude
When talking with your child about seeing a dental practitioner, keep a positive attitude. You might tell him that the dental practitioner is going to, “count your teeth,” and that the dental hygienist is going to, “clean your teeth so they stay strong.” Even if you dread going to your dental practitioner, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude about the whole thing around your child.
Saying negative things about your own experiences will cause unnecessary fear for your child. Never talk about cavity fillings, root canals, and extractions in front of your child. Likewise, don’t allow friends or family members to share any of their dental horror stories in front of your child. Insist that any talk about visiting dental practitioners be positive.
Watch What You Say
Don’t use words like, “pain,” “shot,” or, “hurt,” when you talk about your child’s trip to the dentist’s office. Likewise, don’t tell your child that she might need a cavity filled before her exam. This will only cause anxiety for your child. If your child does have a cavity that needs filling, allow the dental practitioner to explain what will happen. A kid-friendly dental practitioner will have experience in making your child feel as comfortable as possible before and during the treatment process.
Practice at Home
You can role-play the part of a dental practitioner by counting your child’s pearly whites. You can also hold up a mirror to show how the doctor might look at your child’s mouth. Do not make any drilling sounds or mention cavities while you role play. Allow your child to role-play the part of the dental practitioner by giving him a toothbrush and allowing him to practice brushing on a stuffed animal. Role-playing at home will help your child get used to a dental routine.
You can also help prepare your child for a dental visit by purchasing cartoon books about visiting dentists. These books will have easy-to-understand language and portray a positive attitude about regular dental care.
You may be tempted to take your child to your dentist’s office with you when you go for your checkup to show him that it’s not a scary place. However, this may backfire. A dentist’s office for adults is typically very different than one intended for children. Additionally, your child may pick up on your nervousness at your dental practitioner’s office, which can lead to him becoming even more anxious about his own appointment. Even if you don’t consciously feel anxious, children are very sensitive and can pick up on the most subtle emotions.
Allow the Dentist to Direct the Appointment
If your child’s dental practitioner allows you back in the exam room with your child, don’t maintain a constant stream of chatter. It’s tempting to try to distract your child while she’s in the dental chair. However, allowing the dental practitioner to talk to your child gives him the opportunity to build rapport and trust with your child. Allow your child’s dental practitioner to direct the appointment.
Know that it’s normal for children to not want to be examined by a stranger, and expect that your child might whine, cry, or squirm. Don’t scold your child. Rather, allow the dental practitioner to handle the situation. Allow him to direct you, and follow his instructions. He might ask you to hold your child’s hand or to allow your child to sit on your lap to help her feel more comfortable during the exam. Some kid-friendly dentists request that parents stay in the waiting room while their children see the dental practitioner. Respect this policy.
Bring Something for Comfort
Kid-friendly dental offices have books, televisions, and even video games to help distract your child while he is there. However, bringing a favorite book, toy, or stuffed animal may provide your child with some extra comfort.
Don’t promise your child a sugary treat if she behaves and doesn’t fuss or cry while at the dentist’s office. This may actually cause your child anxiety because she’ll wonder what’s so bad about dental visits that she would want to fuss or cry. Additionally, promising your child sugary treats goes against the advice dental professionals give. Dentists advise avoiding sugary treats because they can lead to cavities.
Instead, praise your child for her courage after she visits her dental practitioner. You might reward her with a small toy, coloring book, or stickers occasionally after dental visits to encourage her as well.
Schedule with the Same Hygienist
The hygienist is the professional that handles the majority of a routine dental cleaning and examination appointment. If your child likes a particular hygienist, try to schedule with her each and every time your child goes to the dentist’s office. This will help your child feel more comfortable and make visiting his dental practitioner a more positive experience.
Emphasize the Importance of Good Dental Hygiene
Model good oral hygiene for your child by brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash regularly. Let your child know that regular dental visits are necessary for strong and healthy teeth. It’s also important to encourage good dental hygiene at home. Even before your baby’s first tooth comes in, use a baby toothbrush or finger cot to brush his gums after every feeding. As your child grows, get him into the habit of brushing twice a day and flossing once a day.
Make your child’s dental hygiene routine fun at home. Purchase kid-friendly toothpaste and mouthwash for him to use. You can also make a chart where you add a sticker every morning and night when your child brushes. When your child has accumulated a certain number of stickers, reward him with a small toy or fun activity.
Going to the dentist’s office can be scary for children. Utilizing these tips will help you alleviate your child’s anxiety. Remember to keep a positive attitude before dental visits, and praise your child for her courage after visits are over. Taking your child to Dr. Darryl Engel regularly will help set her up for good oral hygiene throughout her life. Contact us today and get started.
KinderSmiles Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics
400 Kinderkamack Rd, Oradell, NJ 07649
10 Amazing Hacks to Help [Your Child to] Visit the Dentist!
Dr Engel holds a speciality license in pediatric dentistry from New Jersey and New York. He also has attained sedation certification, which allows for in-office oral sedation options, and he’s on staff at Hackensack University Medical Center. As an attending pediatric dentist at HUMC, Dr Engel retains operating room privileges, allowing for an array of treatment modalities and anaesthesia options.