As dental professionals, we can understand why children are initially afraid of visiting our office. After all, sitting in that big chair, seeing scary-looking equipment, and hearing unfamiliar buzzing and whirring would make anyone unsettled! However, visiting the dentist regularly is essential to maintaining your child’s oral health and helps reinforce good hygiene habits that will last a lifetime. With a few simple tips you can use at home, you can help your child see that the dentist is a friendly doctor, whose office isn’t scary at all.
1. Knowledge is Power
There are a lot of great children’s books all about going to the dentist and help explain what a typical visit is like. Some of our favorite books include Curious George Visits the Dentist, Dora Goes to the Dentist, and The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist. Each book shows the dentist in a positive light, explains why this doctor is important, and the pictures help familiarize children with the kinds of equipment the dentist will use.
Playing dentist with your child is another great way to help him or her understand what a typical visit is like. Have your child sit in a chair or lie on a couch, and pretend you’re the dentist. Have your child open wide while you pretend to give an exam, perhaps using a chopstick or the plastic end of a toothbrush to gently rub your child’s teeth in order to get them used to sensations they may feel at the dentist’s office.
You can also familiarize your child with questions the dentist might ask, such as how often they brush their teeth, how they brush their teeth, and how often they eat candy or other sweets. Praise your child for sitting still and giving good answers, and make the pretend visit as fun and lighthearted as possible. This will give your child a greater impression that a trip to the dentist is pain-free and not such a big deal at all.
3. Offer Answers
Your child may inevitably ask questions about the dentist, such as “does it hurt” or “is it scary.” Remember to give simple answers and focus on the fact that the dentist is there to help keep their teeth clean and healthy. If your child has overheard that the dentist can cause pain or give shots, try telling your child that sometimes the dentist needs to do a really big job when older people’s teeth are unhealthy, but reassure them that the dentist is only going to take a peek to see what a good job your child has done keeping his or her teeth clean.
4. Big Kids Club
Even from a very young age, children are comforted by knowing they’re allowed to do something that “big kids” do. This sense of responsibility will make your child proud of him or herself, and will make them more likely to go through an unfamiliar experience with a more positive attitude. Try to avoid using words like “brave”, which might make your child think that the dentist is someone to be afraid of. Rather, reinforce that going to the dentist is a special grown-up thing they’re now allowed to do and that this a big accomplishment in their young lives.
5. Get Friendly
Although you may have a dentist you really love, this doctor may not be familiar with treating children. Instead, make sure you book an appointment with a pediatric dentist, who will be fully trained in how to soothe nervous children and make the visit fun and productive. Pediatric dentists will also often let you come in for a pre-visit, where your child can meet the staff, check out an exam room, and see some of the equipment the dentist will use. This will make the environment feel friendly and less foreign to your child, and can help ensure the first — and subsequent — visits go off without a hitch.
Although it’s natural that children may be afraid of the dentist, it’s quite easy to help them see that a trip to this doctor is easy as pie. With a combination of familiarization and positive reinforcement, your child will learn why it’s so important to take care of his or her teeth, and they may even help nervous classmates to understand that a dental appointment is an enjoyable experience. Do you have a great tip for overcoming a fear of the dentist? Let us know all about it in the comments!