There aren’t many things that cause fear quite like a dental office. Often, children grow up afraid of the tools the dentist uses, and then this carries on into their adulthood. Unfortunately, many adults wind up afraid of regular dental check ups, and then never visit the dentist on any sort of schedule – leading to problems with their teeth and gums.
It’s important to introduce a child to the dentist while they’re young.
Dentists typically recommend that a child visit the dentist for the first time as soon as they get their first tooth, or around their first birthday. This visit is often more about the parent getting information, and should be quite short.
The dentist can explain childhood behaviors like pacifier use and thumbsucking while examining the teeth to see that they’re coming in correctly.
This visit is mostly to let the child begin a relationship with their dentist so that they feel more comfortable in their office. Over time, they can become comfortable with the instruments the dentist uses, which should help limit their anxiety. This helps dentist appointments feel normal by the time the child is a toddler, so that they aren’t as scared of these visits.
Take them to a pediatric dentist
You can also help limit the child’s anxiety about the dentist by making their appointments with a pediatric dentist, who specializes in working with small children.
These dentists typically go to school for longer, learning about children’s oral health, psychology, development, and more. This allows the dentist to learn the skills they need to speak well with their younger patients and establish a solid relationship.
They may use techniques like distraction, telling stories, doing magic tricks, or watching television. They may also tell the child about what they will be doing before they do it. In addition, these dentists often provide positive reinforcement, such as compliments, positive words, and small gifts after visits.
They also work to ease the fear that a child feels by using language that they understand, explaining everything to them and working to keep the visit as nonthreatening as possible. Often, a child is afraid of the unexpected, so knowing what will happen during the appointment can go a long way towards keeping them calm.
Consider allowing the child to bring a toy or book They may get excited if they can show the dentist a special item from home. Or, offer to stop on the way home for a treat after the visit. Having something to look forward to may help make the entire trip go more smoothly.
Play dentist at home
Children enjoy playing pretend, and you can limit their dental anxiety by role-playing dental visits at home. You can act out the entire process, having them wait to be seen, show them into a dentist chair, and brushing, flossing, and counting their teeth.
Consider using a mirror to show them how the dentist will look at their teeth to examine them. Then, let your child be the dentist, with you or their favorite stuffed friend taking a turn in the dentist’s chair.
Providing the child with a clear expectation of what a visit is like, while they’re in a comfortable situation, should help limit their fears. This can help them relate to the dentist more positively. They may be interested in their appointment or even ask questions.