Let’s face it: no one likes going to the dentist. It’s scary and uncomfortable, but it’s a must. While you can physically and mentally drag yourself to your dentist appointment without a fuss…it’s not the same for kids.
The fear of going to the dentist is a real thing. So much so that it has been medically classified as a phobia, and there have been some studies to prove it. As a parent or guardian, what can you do to help ease your child’s anxiety as their dentist appointment nears?
Here are some techniques you can try…
New environments either scare children or excite them. A child will experience a great deal of stress if they meet someone for the first time and that person goes sticks tools into their mouths. It will overwhelm them and give them trauma or anxiety.
You can familiarize your child about the dentist and the environment by taking them with you even if it’s not their appointment yet. If you or another family member is up for an appointment, bring the child to the office as well. This will lessen your child’s fear and let them know that going to the dentist is not a scary place.
There’s nothing wrong with being honest to the child when they ask you about dental work. Naturally, you’ll tell them about the procedures the dentist may need to do. Including words such as “pain”, “hurt”, or “drill” can set off a ticking time bomb in their brains that the dentist’s office is a horrifying place.
Instead, use positive language such as “fix”. You may also want to positive outcomes for the child: “Once the dentist fixes your teeth, you won’t feel pain in your mouth anymore” or “The dentist can help you make your teeth healthy again”. Explain to the child that going to the dentist is not a scary thing.
Children pick up a lot of learnings through play. You can prepare your child for their upcoming dental appointment by playing with them as a dentist. Prepare a chair for the child to sit on and have them hold a mirror while you examine their teeth. You can use simple kitchen utensils such as forks and spoons. If your child already has a dentist playset, that’s even better.
Giving your child a real-life experience of a dentist visit can ease their worries. Avoid making sounds such as a drill or other tools that might scare the child. Compliment your child’s teeth and sneak in some dental healthcare tips while you’re at it.
Don’t get confused with this part. Like what we said, there’s nothing wrong with being honest with your kid. Their dentist appointment might not be smooth sailing. Their dentist may require additional procedures. Explaining this to your child might trigger more questions, and it may scare them as well.
It’s important to remain honest with the child, but not too honest that they might get anxious days before their visit. Sometimes, it’s better to be general. The first thing that you need to tell them is that they’re going to the dentist to make sure that their teeth are healthy. The dentist will carefully look at your teeth with a small mirror. If the dentist sees something that needs to be fixed, they will do so.
It wouldn’t be uncommon for your child to ask what kind of procedures, especially if it will hurt or not. The most important thing is that you don’t scare them by using words that are synonymous to pain. A “pinch” or an “ant bite” is enough to ease their worries. Never give step-by-step explanations of their procedures. Tooth extractions and fillings will scare them.
If you’re unsure about what to do to explain things to the child, ask help from your dentist.
As a parent or a guardian, sometimes it’s easier to promise rewards to your children. It has worked a lot of times, right? So why shouldn’t it work in the dentist?
When children are offered bribes, they automatically assume that you are offering them something because they will have to do something uncomfortable. This has been planted into their minds unconsciously because of parents using this method repeatedly. Your child will wonder why you need to give them something if going to the dentist doesn’t hurt.
It’s okay to treat them somewhere after the dentist. Just don’t promise them before their appointment. If you have already been planning to take them out anyways, refrain from saying anything until a couple of hours after their appointment. This will give their brains time to disconnect from the negative experience from the dentist (if they had any).
In times when going to the dentist will scare your child, don’t let your temper get in charge of the situation. Tears and tantrums may happen, and normal for children to get scared even after all efforts to calm them down. It’s also helpful to remember that your child will get confused and indecisive. They can be excited and cooperative days before their appointment, then terrified when they’re at the clinic.
When this happens, remember to be the bigger person (because you are), and act calm and cool. Never release your frustration at your child, as this may make them even more uncomfortable. Your emotions radiate to your child as well. If you’re nervous or anxious about their first appointment, chances are they will be, too. If you arrive at the clinic with a cheery disposition, it’s less likely they will make a fuss.
This is what you must tell your kid over and over again. Going to the dentist should not be scary. Teaching them good dental habits—including going to the dentist regularly starting from a young age—will greatly benefit them as they get older.