In America, fear of the dentist is only slightly behind fear of public speaking. About 1 in 10 people avoid dental care because of a phobia. And we all know that it can lead to terrible problems. Dental problems are one of the ultimate examples of “a stitch in time saves nine” – taking care of things early will prevent much more expensive, damaging, and painful problems in the future.
But how about your children? Having a good relationship with the dentist is one of the best things you can do for their health! Not only that, but it makes those regular checkups a lot less of a chore for you! And you may believe that it’s largely up to a dentist whether or not a child is scared of the office, but the truth is that so much of it is in our hands as parents. By setting a good example, planning and preparing for dental visits, and choosing the right place for your child, you can help your kid have healthy teeth for life. Here are some tips on how you can keep your kid free from dental fear:
Get Over It Yourself
That’s right. Yet again, your actions as a parent speak louder than your words. Numerous studies have found that children who have one or more parent afraid of the dentist are much more likely to suffer from a fear of the dentist themselves. So, before you start addressing your child’s misgivings, take a look in the mirror. If you avoid the dentist, make a resolution to find a dentist that you like, and prioritize regular visits. Let your child know that you like visiting the dentist, instead of coming home complaining.
Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children have their first dental appointment either by the time they turn 1, or when their first tooth arrives? That’s probably a lot earlier than you were thinking it was time.
There are several reasons for this. First off, it helps your child get used to the dentist and office. It also gives your dentist the opportunity to educate both you and your child about dental health topics, but specific to your child’s needs and challenges. But most importantly, it helps set a pattern for preventive care rather than reactive (or restorative) care. Most people don’t bring their child to the dentist until a problem has happened, like an accident where the child lost a tooth, trouble with teeth growing in, or pain that might be a cavity or abscess. When that happens, your child’s first trip to the dentist is full of unpleasant memories of pain and urgency, which can set a pattern of aversion. This article has some great tips for your child’s first visit.
Pick a Good Pediatric Dentist
Did you know that pediatric dentists actually undergo two years of additional training to learn specifically about children’s dental needs? They’re trained to spot problems early, track growth, and especially, to work well with children. They can accommodate nervousness, squirminess, and general childish recalcitrance. They’re sensitive to the things that create triggers of anxiety in kids. In addition, most pediatric dental offices are designed in a way that makes children feel comfortable and at home. If the office has a spaceship and a play place, children are much more likely to love their visits there.
Careful of Your Setup
Don’t bribe your kids in order to get them cooperative for a trip to the dentist. I know, doesn’t that sound counter-intuitive? You might actually have to bribe yourself to get yourself to do it, but setting a pattern like that for your kids can give the wrong impression. Think about it. If you tell your child something like “just get through the appointment and then we can get ice cream” or even “it won’t hurt or be scary” then their red flags will go up. Why would you say that unless there was some danger of it being scary or painful? Why would they need to be bribed unless it was a dreaded undertaking?
Instead, talk about the upcoming dental visit as something that is either fun, or business as usual. Be nonchalant about it, or build some excitement. “Are you excited to meet Dr. Hodgekins?” is more the thing we’re going for here.
Pick Your Time Wisely
Do your children tend to get fussy in the early afternoon, when they’re used to taking a nap? Or maybe they get hungry and cranky in the evening. You know your kids’ schedule better than anyone, so pick your appointment time for a good block when you know that they’ll be well-fed, awake, and cheerful, even if that means you have to schedule out farther than usual. Also remember that it’s important for you not to feel rushed and stressed, since your children will pick up on it. Give yourself plenty of time and leisure, and look forward to an hour or two where you can just kick back with a magazine.