Most of us don't enjoy a trip to the dentist. It's an event that plenty of adults dread and even fear, and for a child, it can be downright terrifying. Chances are you've had to try and calm down your little one as they kicked, screamed and wailed their way through a checkup or filling. Instead of just trying to talk them down the day of their appointment or bribe them with the promise of some ice cream afterward, try 5 of these tips to help a child get over their fear of the dentist.
Keep Things Simple
Don't lie to your child and tell them you're going out only to drag them into the horrifying dentist's chair. Your child trusts you completely. As their ultimate form of security, having you be honest and upfront with them in a manner that's age appropriate can instill them with confidence the next time they're due for a visit. Avoid giving too many details about the practices, but answer any questions they have with to-the-point responses. Let the dentist answer the difficult or complex questions, since they're trained to work with children and know how to reply to their inquiries in a non-threatening, easy-to-understand way.
There are lots of illustrated books out there for parents to read with their children about going to the dentist. Introducing this a week before the appointment would be ideal, since you can go over the story several times and start a conversation about their own upcoming appointment. Some recommended titles are The Tooth Book: A Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums Paperback by Edward Miller, Melvin the Magnificent Molar Paperback by Julia Cook and The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist Paperback by Stan Berenstain.
Mind Your Tongue
Don't use any words that will ignite a new wave of panic like “shot”, “hurt” or “pain”. The dentist and their staff will have their own way of speaking to kids about what they're doing, so just let them guide the conversation. Before the visit, make sure to use only positive words and phrases like, “smile”, “clean”, “happy”, “healthy”, and “strong”.
Have a Pretend Visit
Roleplaying a trip to the dentist with your child is a great way to help them feel more prepared for their next appointment. Have your child assume the role of the patient and use a toothbrush to gently count their teeth using numbers or letters. You can also hand them a mirror as they dentist may so they can see what you're doing and realize it isn't scary at all. Avoid lining up any extra instruments or making any drilling sounds. After their pretend checkup is over, make sure you praise them about what a great job they did and let them try examining you.
Serve as a Distraction
If it's your child's first visit or they just have bad anxiety, ask the dentist to allow you to accompany your son or daughter and sit beside them during the procedure. Once there, you'll be able to hold their hand and talk to them, providing a comforting distraction from whatever is going on in their mouth. You can also have them bring along a small stuffed animal or blanket that they can hold during their examination, which can decrease stress levels and allow them to focus on something else. Some dentist's even have movies or TVs for children to watch during their appointments.
Be a Good Role Model
Throughout the year, make sure you talk to your child about the importance of proper dental hygiene. Tell them about their beautiful smile and the need for clean teeth and healthy gums. Establish a ritual of brushing together and allow them to accompany you during your own checkup or cleaning appointment. By consistently promoting dental hygiene, a trip to the dentist will lose its edge and become part of their routine.
The information for this article is credited to Nate C. Lewis, a family dentist in Riverton, Utah.