Helping Kids Overcome a Fear of the Dentist
No one jumps at the opportunity to visit the doctor, and making a trip to the dentist is no different. Especially for young patients, the anxiety of the unknown can take hold and make it an uphill battle to stick with scheduled dental appointments, whether they are for routine cleanings or to correct an oral issue that is causing pain or discomfort. Children have a particularly difficult time with the dentist, often more so than a primary care doctor, because they are under the impression whatever the dentist does will hurt, and it creates trepidation for parents trying to do what's best for the child's health. It is necessary to have regular check-ups with the dentist throughout childhood, as a way to get ahead of major issues that could rear their ugly head.
Ensuring children have a positive experience in the dental chair falls partly on the parents' shoulders, but it is a true challenge to know what to do when worry around visits to the dentist are debilitating for children. Following the tips listed below will help kids overcome a fear of the dentist, making it easier to establish a routine of oral health throughout their lifetimes.
Leaving the Worry at the Door
When children show signs of uneasiness about a dentist appointment, it is all too common for parents to take on the same feelings of anxiety and worry which ultimately creates a perpetual cycle of nervousness. Even when the children aren't all that concerned about going to the dentist, a parent's concern can be quickly picked up by the child. That may have to do with a common fear of the dentist among adults. According to a recent survey conducted in the UK by a medical negligence specialist firm, nearly 34% of adults have a fear of the dentist themselves, stemming from a bad experience as a child. Projecting that fear onto children can scar them emotionally and mentally before a dentist appointment, making it that much harder to get them to relax before or while getting the care they need.
Instead of mimicking the worry and anxiety felt by children prior to a dentist appointment or unknowingly projecting their own uneasiness onto a child, parents can make an effort to leave those negative emotions at the door. The more calm and collected mom or dad is, and less discussion there is about bad childhood memories are the dentist, the better off the child will be on the way to the dentist and during his or her appointment.
Discussing What to Expect
Another way parents can help children overcome a fear of the dentist is to openly and honestly discuss what to expect before, during, and after an appointment. Just like adults, children have a fear of the unknown, and the dentist represents an unfamiliar experience for most younger patients. They are unsure if there will be pain involved, if the dentist will be nice, or if they are in for a scolding for not taking the best care of their teeth.
Avoiding the fear of the unknown requires a proactive involvement on behalf of the parents, starting with a discussion about what to expect with a routine dentist visit. Parents do not need to get into the specifics of every moment of a dental appointment. However, sharing with a child that the dentist will look in their mouth, clean the teeth with a special toothbrush, and talk about how to take care of the mouth after the appointment helps tremendously in easing the anxiety of a child.
Be Comforting - or Distracting
Despite a parent's best efforts, a child may still be hesitant to go to the dentist when the time comes. The best way to ease anxiety and worry in a young patient who is scared to go through with the process is to build in some familiarity into the mix. This may mean bringing a child's favourite toy or blanket into the dentist's office and letting the child hold onto it before heading back to the dental chair. It is also helpful to ask the office staff or the dentist directly if accompanying the child throughout the visit is a possibility. Most dentists understand the fear that children face before and during a visit, and they are more than willing to allow parents to be in the room as a comfort or a distraction for the child.
Use Positive Reinforcement
One of the last steps parents can take in eliminating a fear of the dentist in young patients is to embrace positive reinforcement at every available opportunity. Most children don't care too much about the inherent benefits of having regular dental check-ups, like white teeth, healthy gums, and fresh breath. They do, however, respond well to small rewards given after a good visit to the dentist. The dentist's office may offer a sugar-free candy or a sticker for a great appointment, but parents can take this one step further by offering a reward the child will immediately respond to. A small toy, a rewards certificate, or a bump in allowance may all offer the type of positive reinforcement children need to love going to the dentist, not loath it.
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