Updated: Jan 19
Does your child shriek at the thought of getting a regular oral checkup? Don’t worry you’re not alone, an estimated 20% of school-age children are afraid of visiting the dentist. When you expose a person to limited understanding of an unfamiliar environment and ask them to sit still as they are probed with metal implements, it’s not surprising that they might feel a little stressed out. In extreme cases, this anxiety can even turn into a full-blown phobia, which affects your child well into adulthood. While these fears are certainly understandable, an avoidant attitude will prevent your child from receiving optimal dental care throughout their lives. This will inevitably impact the overall strength and health of their teeth as they grow older.
The best way to tackle these issues is by taking steps to prevent dental anxiety from developing at an early age. There are a number of things you can do to help get your child relaxed and comfortable before their dentist appointment.
1. Start Early
The worst thing you can do is to wait until cavities or other concerns crop up, before scheduling their first appointment. This will familiarize your child with the process of going to see the dentist and getting examined, they will also learn that dental work doesn’t need to be painful or invasive and that this can be just another part of their routine. Regular preventative maintenance will also help to reduce the chances of your child needing more serious treatment down the line.
2. Make Sure They Are Prepared
The last thing you want to do is make your child’s first visit to the dentist a surprise. Before booking your appointment, make sure to sit your child down and explain in detail what will happen. Describe what the child will be likely to see, what they will hear, and what they will feel. Make sure to use neutral or positive language wherever possible, but remain honest. Role playing can be an effective tool to use here; if you want to play the part of a dentist and talk your child through the check-process, then this will help to make it seem like a fun task rather than a chore.
3. Arrange a Trial Run
For as much information as you provide, nothing will settle the nerves like an actual first-hand experience. If you can arrange a pre-visit with your dental care provider then this will be enormously helpful. Show your child the office and facilities so that they know what to expect during their own appointment. If a meet and greet isn’t possible then try to bring your child along during one of your regular check-ups so that they know there’s nothing to fear.
4. Relaxation, Distraction and Positive Reinforcement
Regardless of the steps you’ve taken, it’s normal for your child to feel some nerves during the actual appointment. Simply taking your child through some simple deep breathing exercises can help to work out these anxieties and get them in the right mindset for their first check-up. Distraction is also a great tool for lessening
the impact of stress. If your child has a favorite toy or item that they seek out for comfort then bring this along on the trip. With your dentist’s permission provide this toy to your child during the actual procedure so that they have something else to focus on. If you’re not allowed these items then simple physical contact can serve in its place. After the appointment it’s important that you reinforce good habits by praising your child for their bravery and good behavior. You can also link the dental visit to a small reward such as a toy or a fun day out so that your child learns to associate dentist visits with positive emotions.
5. Maintain a Routine
Once you have established a routine for dentist appointments it’s important that you follow these steps for each subsequent visit so that your child can grow used to the process.