If your little one is afraid of going to the dentist, we can help ease their fear. Call Drs. James and Samuel Owens at 918.455.7700.and let us know if you have a child who feels scared or unsure about seeing a dentist. We love working with kids and can help make their experience less stressful and more comfortable!
Here are some tips to help your child relax before the next dental checkup:
A big factor in a child’s fear of the dentist is…wait for it…PARENTS. What? It’s true. Mom’s or Dad’s dental fear plays a huge role in their child’s fear of the dentist. Describing extractions, root canals, or other experiences with another adult when overheard by a young one will likely trigger anxiety. Some parents take their children with them to their own dental appointment, but experts say this is a mistake. Parents themselves might feel anxious about the visit without even realizing it, and their child might sense those fears. And taking your child to a more “sterile” adult office also gives the wrong impression. Whereas most pediatric dentists make their offices kid-friendly — some have fun games, pleasing pictures on the walls and ceilings, and movies or TV shows kids enjoy.
But even as fun, as we try to make the experience for children, from a child’s perspective, a trip to the dentist, can be a scary event. Lying on a chair in an unfamiliar room filled with unfamiliar noises and objects, all while a stranger is poking cold, metallic, and unusual instruments in his mouth, can make a child feel uneasy. Plus, if it’s their very first time, it’s the fear of the unknown. As your child’s teeth continue to fall out and grow, he may take several trips to the dentist before ever starting kindergarten, so we want the initial trip to be a pleasant one.
The earlier a child visits the dentist, the better. It’s best that the first visit starts at age 1 or when the first tooth is visible. This will provide your child with a ‘dental home’ where they will feel comfortable and be familiar with the staff.
When preparing for a visit, especially the first time, try not to include too many details. Doing so will raise more questions and adding more information about an extra treatment like a filling he might need may cause unnecessary anxiety. Keep a positive attitude when discussing an upcoming visit. Our favorite thing to have parents tell their child is that we are going to check their smile and count their teeth — that’s it, nothing else. Use positive phrases like “clean, strong, healthy teeth” to make the visit seem fun and good rather than scary and alarming. Let the dental staff introduce their own vocabulary to children to help them get through any difficult dental situations.
Before the first dentist appointment, play pretending with your child to be the dentist and the patient. All you need is a toothbrush. Count your little one’s teeth by starting with the number 1 or the letter A. Avoid making drilling noises or lining up other “instruments.” You can even hold up a mirror and show your child how the dentist might look at and check their teeth. Then let your child role-play by using a toothbrush to clean the teeth of a stuffed animal or doll. The key is getting your child familiar with the routine so that they are more comfortable for the real visit.
Picture books with detailed illustrations and easy-to-understand language can also help little ones get a sense of what to expect. Read Spongebob Squarepants’ Behold No Cavities! A Visit to the Dentist or Dora the Explorer’s Show Me Your Smile!: A Visit to the Dentist.
Now let’s talk about the fuss. It’s bound to happen at some point. It is normal and age-appropriate for a young child to cry, whine, wiggle, and not want to be examined by a stranger. Stay calm and remember that the dentist and the staff are used to working with children and have seen their share of tantrums. Let the dental care professionals guide you in this respect. They might ask you to stay at a distance or to hold your little one’s hand, which will provide comfort and prevent your child from grabbing any dental instruments.
Promising children a special treat if they behave well at the dentist will only increase their apprehension. Saying, “If you don’t fuss or cry, you’ll get a lollipop,” might make your little one think, “What’s so bad about the dentist that I might want to cry?” Promising a sugary treat also sends the wrong message after a dentist emphasizes having clean, healthy teeth by avoiding sweets that can cause cavities. Instead, after the visit is over, praise your child for good behavior and bravery.
Teach your children that visiting the dentist is a necessity and that the dentist will take care of their teeth so that they are strong enough for them to eat. You might also explain that the dentist helps keep cavities at bay and ensures that his patients will have a beautiful smile for years to come.