Visiting the dentist can be a scary thing to do for children. The lights, the unfamiliarity; it can be overwhelming and overstimulating. The first time I took my child, he thought it was going to be a lot of fun because the waiting room was very friendly and had colors and toys that he enjoyed but once we got back to the office and sat the chair, he took one look at the lights and the dentist in a mask and freaked out. So what can be done as parents to prepare children for a visit to the dentist?
- Start Young
If you start going to the dentist before your child remembers a time when you didn’t go, it might help him or her to be used to the dentist before he or she begins to develop fears. It is recommended to start taking children to the dentist around the first birthday and then every six months after that. This way the dentist can keep an eye on gums and teeth from the very beginning but it also helps children to feel comfortable and familiar with the dentist office that you take them to. It really is about familiarity. If the child recognizes his or her surroundings they will probably be less likely to be afraid.
- Stay Simple
Once your child is old enough to understand and talk back, over loading them with information about the dentist is not a good idea because it will only invoke more questions which can actually bread further fears if there is something that they can’t fully comprehend. However, definitely talk to them about the dentist and what will happen when they get there but the finite details of how the dentist fills cavities will cause unnecessary anxiety. Also, try not to tell your child that everything will be ‘fine.’ If they do end up needing treatment or emergency dental care of some sort, it might cause them to lose their trust in the dentist as well as you.
- Use the Staff’s Words
Dentist’s staff usually have their own words that they use to help children through the process. They are used to having to comfort children and have come up with comforting words. Words like shot, hurt and pain can be scary for a kid so get direction from the dentist and their staff to find out what alternative words might be a good idea. This way you are following the staff’s directive and everything stays consistent for your child. Children will react better to positive phrasing than negative.
- Play Pretend
Pretending to the go to the dentist is a great way to prepare your children for a real visit. Kids love to play pretend and letting them play dentist or you be the dentist is a fun way for them to see that the dentist can be a good place. This also helps with showing them the proper way to brush their teeth. If they have a stuffed toy or favorite doll then let them role play brushing the toy’s teeth. You could even set up a mirror so that they can see how a dentist would do it. Making ‘dentist sounds’ is a good idea so that they have positive memories of playing with that sound and when they hear it at the dentist, it is familiar.
- No War Stories
Taking your child with you to your own dentist appointment or telling them stories about when you were at the dentist may seem like a good idea but it is in fact, the opposite. Your appointment as an adult will be much different than your child’s appointment and may have cause the child to be fearful of his own appointment if he thinks it’s going to be just like yours. Most pediatric dentistry offices are kid friendly and full of color and toys and fun things as well as little take home bags.
Even if you follow all of these tips to the tee, you may be in for a little fussing from your child. This is normal and dentists are used to it. Ask you dentist for some advice on how to help your child enjoy dentist visits in the future.
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