You make sure your child is fully vaccinated and gets a biannual medical checkup. You know that your child needs to visit the dentist to ensure a healthy future (and a beautiful smile), but to your surprise, your child quivers in fear at the thought of a dental check-up.
Many children fear the dentist, especially if they already struggle with anxieties or phobias. If your child feels scared of the dentist, follow these eight tips to help your child feel prepared, secure, and confident at his or her next dental exam.
1. Visit Early
Did you know that children should see a dentist about six months after they get their first tooth? Your child should get acquainted with your family dentist by the time he or she is a year old. The earlier you bring your child to the dentist, the less scary it will be to return on a bi-annual basis.
2. Don’t Fake It
Whether you think they do or not, kids notice everything you do, including how you feel about visiting the dentist. Your children will know if you feel anxious or scared. Even if you don’t tell the story about your triple root canal-they’ll sense it in your body language and tone of voice.
Be optimistic and positive about the dentist. Find one who makes you and others in your family feel comfortable-who listens to you and gives you the care you need. Then, talk to your kids about your positive dental experiences and how grateful you are for your healthy, strong teeth. The more you like your dentist, the happier your kids will be to make a visit themselves.
3. Practice at Home
Children feel better about going to the dentist if they know what to expect. Try an at-home role play: ask your child to sit in a comfortable chair, recline it slightly, and pretend to examine his or her teeth.
Explain what a dentist does and how he or she does it. Some children might become overwhelmed by too many details, but others will want to know exactly what happens and why. When children are younger, they usually just need to know that a dentist cleans their teeth and uses a special toothbrush and toothpaste to do so.
4. Communicate with Your Dentist
If your child is anxious about his or her oral check-up, talk to your hygienist or doctor about it. Your dentist’s staff usually prepare the office for a worried child. Your dentist might also have ideas for how you can prepare your child for the visit.
5. Educate Your Children
Your child will feel more confident about going to the dentist when he or she learns that a dentist helps them have healthy teeth. Teach your child to brush and floss his or her teeth. If children are familiar with good dental-hygiene practices, they will likely respond better to a dental check-up.
6. “Tour” the Office
Most dentists happily walk their younger patients around the office and answer questions about equipment and procedures. Your child might respond well to a pre-check-up visit so he or she knows what to expect. Many kids even want to return to the dentist after seeing the cool toys, books, and movies that many dentists keep in the office.
7. Use the Best Words
How do words like “pain,” “hurt,” and “shot” make you feel? As you describe what will happen at the dentist’s office, don’t use words that will make your child nervous or that he or she won’t understand. Your use of age-appropriate vocabulary allows your child to feel more confident about what will happen. Call your dentist if you need help choosing the right words and explanations.
8. Reward Your Child
Your anxious child may respond well to thoughts of a special reward after the check-up. Rather than use sugary treat as a prize, take a trip to the park or do another activity instead. Your child might need something to work toward during the check-up-offer small items (like stickers) that he or she can “cash in” for bigger prizes after the check-up. Remember to verbally praise your child for being brave.
Do all you can to prepare your child for a dental checkup. But don’t feel too badly if your child misbehaves at the dentist’s office. Your dentist uses various soothing tactics to calm nervous or unhappy children.
Children need good experiences with the dentist while they are young. Kids can be prone to tooth decay and other oral health issues, and a friendly, trustworthy dentist helps your child stay healthy and enjoy a strong, beautiful smile throughout his or her life.