By Sara Davis, DDS
For many children, a dental visit can be a scary event. Between the unusual-looking instruments, a moving chair, and a stranger peering into your mouth, it’s not surprising that nearly 20 percent of children fear the dentist.
The reasons for their fears vary. They can range from a previous negative experience at the dentist or hearing about one from someone else. Older children may worry about the loss of control while in the dental chair.
In particular, children with sensory sensitivities — kids who are uncomfortable with loud noises, bright lights, or being touched — may have fears about what will happen at the dental office. Likewise, kids with anxiety are more likely to experience dental fears.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month
In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, we’ve compiled a list of six simple tips to help ease your child’s dental fears. It’s important to help your kids feel more comfortable with the experience of visiting the dentist so they get the preventive care they need for good dental health.
1. Start them young
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children start seeing a dentist every six months starting around their first birthday or once their first tooth emerges. That initial visit will allow you to ask questions on things like pacifier use or thumb sucking. It also allows the child to begin to develop a relationship with the dentist and office staff, sit in a dental chair, and be introduced to what they may see and hear in the office.
School-aged children should be on a routine schedule of checkups to chart their growth and care for their oral health. Checkups twice a year can help keep teeth healthy and avoid future cavities and tooth decay.
2. Talk about it
Read a book with your child about the dentist’s office and tell them about your positive dental experiences. Keep your conversations about upcoming visits positive and simple. For example, explain that the dentist is simply going to check their smile and count their teeth.
The Morristown Centennial Library is good resource for children’s books, and our dental team can share other resources that serve as conversation starters for your family.
3. Consider a trial run
Stop by the dentist’s office a day or two before your child’s scheduled appointment so they can see the office, or consider bringing the family to the waiting room while you have your own checkup. You can also play pretend with them at home, taking turns being the dentist and the patient. Have them practice “cleaning teeth” with a favorite doll or stuffed animal.
All of these things will help get them more familiar with what will happen during the visit. In some cases, playing pretend will open up a conversation about any concerns your child might have, and you can address them.
4. Find a dentist who can serve your whole family
If your child struggles with seeing the dentist, find a practice that specializes in treating families. When your family schedules visits all together, your children understand that dental health is for everyone. The Lamoille Health Family Dentistry staff has created a stress-free environment, helping ease children’s dental fears and anxieties.
5. Focus on the positive
Children take their cues from their parents, particularly their father, when it comes to whether or not the dentist is something to be feared, according to a study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry. Therefore, even if you have your own fears, do your best to create a positive experience for your child. When kids are within earshot, avoid mentioning painful procedures that you may have experienced. Focus on the fact that everyone’s teeth will be strong and healthy after a dental visit.
6. Expect some pushback
It is completely normal and age-appropriate for your child to be apprehensive about having their mouth examined by a stranger. The best thing you can do is stay calm and provide support.
Your dentist and office staff have seen plenty of tantrums from fearful children before. Ask for advice. You may be able to hold your child on your lap while he or she sits in the dental chair or hold your child’s hand from a close distance. That might be all your child needs to feel comfortable.
Lamoille Health Family Dentistry provides superior care in a stress-free environment. Schedule your family’s dental appointments today.