In 2011, the European Journal of Dentistry published a study on how children perceive their dentists and dental offices after a visit. Many adults have dental phobia, and it’s something that most often starts when those adults are kids. Learning how to calm your child’s fear of the dentist early on, while your children are still young, will help ensure they don’t develop a phobia of the dental office as they grow older.
Calm Your Child’s Fears and Get Them Excited About Going to the Dentist
Recently we wrote an article discussing some of the top excuses people give for not going to their dental appointment. Going to a strange new place and having to sit still in a chair while a person you don’t know feels around in your mouth with metallic objects can be unsettling for adults and children alike, but adults are able to contain their unease much easier than kids. Some act out in the dental office lobby, some while in the chair, and some not until after the visit is completely done. If your child shows signs of being upset at the thought of going to the dentist, try the following tips to put their minds at ease.
Explain the Importance of Excellent Oral Care at a Young Age
Children — even adults! — who don’t understand the importance of properly maintaining anything in their lives will end up wondering why they’re experiencing so many (and such expensive) issues, whether it’s with their car, their home, or their health. Educating your child on the importance of brushing and flossing their teeth after every meal as well as using mouthwash is a must to maintain their understanding of good oral care.
Once this is established, discuss what a dental office is for and why everyone needs to go there two times a year for a checkup. You do not have to go into great detail — in fact, the less you explain, the better. If you start talking about all the tools used, or what a cavity is, a child could become afraid. Instead, just focus on having as many positive answers as possible. Avoid saying things like “it’s not going to hurt,” or “everything’s going to be okay.” He or she might not like that everything might not be fine, but it will calm your child when you answer with something like “if the dentist finds any sugar bugs (cavities), they can get them out so they stop hiding in your teeth all day! We want to make sure we don’t have any sugar bugs, don’t we?” Also try not to say words like “shot,” “drill” or “pain,” and there are many phrases parents use that they may think are helpful but are actually harmful.
Make sure that once your child knows that going to the dentist means something like “wiping off the sugar bugs” or “making sure sugar bugs aren’t hiding in our teeth,” be a responsible parent and schedule and keep your child’s checkups every six months.
Begin Visits For Your Child Sooner Than You Think
Most children in North America are brought to the dentist around age 2 or 3. It may seem too soon, but the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends all children should go to their first dental visit by the time their first tooth erupts or by their first birthday. The sooner your child experiences a dental office and meets your family dentist, the more comfortable they will be at future visits. Many children who are initially brought in at a later age are more uncooperative at their visits.
A child’s first dental visit doesn’t take long. At the appointment, your child will get to meet the hygienist and dentist. They will not necessarily perform a dental cleaning, but instead, will just try counting the child’s teeth out loud and let them go for a ride in the dental chair. It’s a great icebreaker for most children, but some can be uncooperative, resulting in trying the appointment again in a few months. The more your child comes in for appointments, the more comfortable they are in the dental office. It’s not only a great way to make them happier at future visits, but starting this young helps prevent buildup and decay even sooner.
Choose a Kid-Friendly Dentist
Many dentists in your area including Madison Family Dental are family friendly dental offices. However, some children are in need of an atmosphere that is directly focused on children. That is where a pediatric dentist comes in. These dental professionals take an extra two years of specialty courses to learn just how to care for infants and children, and typically open up pediatric clinics. Many of these offices have a wide variety of kid-friendly activities and decorations to help children feel more at ease during their appointments. Some popular looks for pediatric dental offices are cartoons, jungle, safari or zoo themes. Madison even has a movie theater themed office! Themes and activities at these offices are proven to help calm your child while they are in for their checkups.
We suggest bringing your child to us around their first birthday. We focus on meeting the child, counting their teeth and letting them go for a ride in the dental chair. At later visits, we introduce some of the equipment in a fun way. The suction can be introduced as “Mr. Thirsty,” for example. If your child is uncooperative after a few visits to our office, we may refer them to a pediatric dentist instead.
Many visits are actually ruined by parents promising a treat or a present each time they go to the dentist if they behave at their visit. “If you go to the dentist, we will get ice cream after.” “If you behave for the dentist, I will buy you a new toy.” This teaches them that no matter how they act, they will still get a treat afterward. Many offices have a treasure chest or toy box that the children get to pick from, but only if they’ve had a good visit. Even try avoiding saying “be brave,” or “don’t be afraid!” This is a subtle way of telling your child there IS something scary at the dental office.
Some parents even use the dentist as a punishment. “Stop throwing a fit! Do you want to go back to the dentist?” Saying something like this instantly brings a negative reaction from children every time they are brought in for an appointment. Their visits should be nothing but positive and exciting, and your job is to promote that positivity for them to have the most enjoyable experience possible and avoid having dental phobia in the future.
“Pretend Visits” At Home Are Extremely Helpful
Children love to play make believe, and one fantastic way to get them ready for their trips to the dentist is to play “dentist” at home. You can start out by having them play the dentist. Get their favorite stuffed animal or toy and have them pretend to greet them. Then your child can lie the toy or stuffed animal down on its back and ask them to open wide so they can count their teeth, or brush them with a dry brush.
After you try this method, move on by having them lie on a couch or bed and telling them you want to count their teeth. Have them open wide and take your time counting the teeth, so they get used to keeping their mouth open when asked. Explain you are looking for “sugar bugs” which are little bugs that live in your mouth if you do not brush your teeth well enough. This helps them understand the importance of brushing after every meal, ensuring the “sugar bugs” are all brushed away and their teeth are happy and strong.
Visiting the Dentist is Important and Fun!
Every parent wants their children to be happy and healthy, which is why regular medical and dental checkups are needed. Being nervous about how your child will react at the dental office while they are still young is normal. You can help calm your child’s nerves and ensure they have a fun visit while still understanding the importance of regular visits. We look forward to meeting your family! Schedule an appointment with us today.