A fear of the dentist is a common issue many kids have. It is estimated that around 10 children suffer from dental anxiety, rising to approximately 15% in adults. Dental anxiety is one of the main reasons why adults avoid going to the dentist, so making sure you instill good dental habits and working through any issues your child has with the dentist’s office is vital so they don’t become one of the 50% of adults who avoid the dentist and put their oral health at risk.
As parents, you know the importance of ensuring your child is healthy, and a good dental routine can be an integral part of maintaining and supporting your child’s health.
Benefits of Regular Dental Checks for Kids
Taking your child to the dentist regularly from a young age can positively impact their health. First and foremost, it is the best way to check for any cavities in your child’s teeth and have them rectified easily.
Ensuring your child has regular dental checks allows you to make sure you stay on top of their dental development. Taking your child to the dentist from 6 months of age will or when they get their first tooth can help you monitor how teeth come through and address any missing teeth or alignment issues. You can also identify any other health issues too, as well as gum disease and bad breath, along with teaching your child how best to care for their teeth and brush them correctly.
However, all of this might feel out of reach if your child has developed a fear of the dentist. How do you navigate dental care when your child becomes upset at the mere thought of visiting the dentist, regardless of the procedures being carried out?
This post looks at some of the different ways you can help your child become more comfortable at the dentist in different scenarios and at different ages.
As mentioned above, the earlier you take your child to the dentist, the more they will be used to going when they are old enough to know what is going on. There is a lot of scary-looking equipment in a dentist’s office, which can be terrifying for young children and adults alike. By exposing them to this environment on a regular basis, you can reduce their reactions to what is going around them and get them used to the tools and sounds that they can experience when visiting the dentist.
Find A Good Family Dentist
Family or pediatric dentists will be experienced in working with children who have a fear of the dentist or experience dental anxiety. Talk to them when registering about how your child perceives the dentist and what it is that worries them. Your dentist can then help you to devise a treatment plan that will work for them to overcome their fears in time while still getting the treatment they need. If your dentist isn’t willing to work with you to help your child, it might be a good idea to look around local dentists to find one who is more compassionate to your child’s needs.
Talk To Them
It’s one thing to know what they are afraid of at the dentist; it is another thing to be able to alleviate some of those worries. Talking to your child about what happens during a dental visit or what they can expect can help to remove some of the issues associated with their fears.
Discuss the tools the dentist can use for their checkup, what the process is for a filling, and the types of noises they might hear, such as the drill and even the sensation of having local anesthetics injected if required. Oftentimes, the fear of the unknown is worse than the issue itself, so removing some of this can go a long way to alleviating some of the distress they are feeling.
Try to answer all questions honestly and truthfully. While you don’t want to sugarcoat anything, you also don’t want to exaggerate the parts they are more worried about, either. Avoid using terms that have negative connotations like “pain” or “suffer,” and use positive language only to help your child feel more at ease.
Book An Appointment, But No Procedures
Instead of rushing right into an appointment which is likely a stressful event for everyone involved, why not just book an appointment so your child can get to grips with the room and the different equipment in there? They can walk around, sit in the chair and even look at and touch the tools if your dentist allows it.
With your dentist in attendance, they can answer any questions they have, and your child can be allowed to acclimatize to the environment and become more familiar with the space. By not having any procedures taking place and taking things at their speed, you can alleviate any additional stress the appointment will put them under.
Again, talk to your dentist’s office first but allowing your child to go to their appointment with something that helps to calm them can be beneficial. This, of course, will depend on what the item would be and what your dentist deems reasonable and will not interfere with their treatment. It can be a stuffed toy, listening to music with headphones in, watching videos or YouTube, for example, or anything that they feel will help them take their mind off things.
Practice Deep Breathing and Calming Techniques
Practicing deep breathing techniques and relaxation options can be a good idea if your child gets stressed out before the appointment or even in the waiting room. Do them randomly at home so they become commonplace, and talk your child through how to help themselves relax so they can stop themselves from getting overly stressed. While it might not reduce the stress in the dentist chair itself, it can help them stay calm until this point which means they will be more comfortable going in.
Popular deep breathing techniques for children include blowing up balloons, placing a stuffed toy on their stomach and having them watch it rise and fall, practicing sniffing flowers (you don’t need an actual flower for this), having them breathe in through their nose to “sniff” the flower, and then “exhale” to blow the petals away. Alternatively, you can watch YouTube videos to help you find the right technique for your child.
Instead of bribing your child with “gifts” if they do well, try positive reinforcement instead. The issue with telling your child that they can have a present if they do well is that you build it up to be something that is going to be really bad, making it seem worse in their mind. By giving them praise and encouragement when they do something well or showing brave behavior in the face of their fears, you can help them to focus on the positives of the appointment rather than the worst parts. This positive reinforcement can go a long way to building a better relationship between your child and their dentist.
Ask For Help
Although it can be hard to admit to people that your child struggles, asking for help can help you both break free of this pattern and ensure the dentist trips leave only positive memories and not more trauma. You can talk to your dentist in the first instance to see what options they have to help your child overcome dental stress or consult with your primary care physician to see if they can recommend anything, including therapy, to help them become more relaxed. In case of severe dental trauma and phobia, you might need to consider sedation dentistry options, working with a psychologist, or asking your doctor for medication to help calm them prior to the appointment. However, this is only considered in extreme cases.
Set A Good Example
Keep calm and lead by example. If you show your child, there is nothing to worry about. Take them with you for your appointment and show them how easy it is to undergo treatment. Be positive and encouraging and model the type of behavior you want your child to learn from.
Use Role Play
For younger children, role play can be helpful in acting out different scenarios that could happen at the dentist. Use dolls, teddies, figures, etc., to play “doctors or dentists.” They can be the dentist and perform checkups as them both, and other actions doctors would perform to ensure a child is fit and healthy such as checking the throat and ears and heartbeat, for example. By making it fun, you have a better chance of calming their fears and making the whole experience much more fun.
Tackling your child’s fear of the dentist means you need to be careful about your words and actions to help them have a better experience when visiting the dentist. You can try many small things, but the main thing is to be understanding, calm, and patient while you work through the process and hopefully help your child get the dental treatment you need.