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Many people are afraid of dentists and their anxiety often causes them to delay dentist appointments as much as possible, even despite the pain.
When it comes to kids, they can easily read their parents’ emotions and mimic their behaviour. So even if the children have never seen a dentist, they can adopt the fear from their moms and dads.
A child’s dentist phobia can also be triggered by their own poor dental treatment experience, scary stories of friends about visiting a doctor, or some bad memories of hospitals in general.
However, there are several practical tips to help your child overcome the fear of the dentist and even turn the appointments into a fun activity.
Kids’ first dentist appointment is a milestone
Children’s first visit to the dentist is the most important one to make a good impression. Generally, kids should have their first dental appointment around the time they turn one or within six months of erupting their first tooth.
The doctor assesses oral health, and the kid gets to know the clinic, has the opportunity to look around, check the equipment, and communicate with the staff while sitting in a comfortable chair. The first appointment should be simply an overview, not a treatment session.
To make the first visit more enjoyable, try to choose a clinic with welcoming staff and a kids-friendly design – this will encourage the child to feel comfortable, relaxed, and interested.
The doctor’s appearance also matters a lot – many paediatric dentists go from boring white scrubs to more colourful prints and details, like funny scrub hats Australia medical workers created.
Kids are very sensitive to their surroundings: the smells of medicines, uniforms, and loud medical equipment can easily scare a child from the very beginning. Taking your children to a paediatric dentist in a family clinic can be a good choice.
A good doctor tries to find a way to engage every kid, win them over and turn therapy into a game.
For example, the dentist may offer to choose the colour of the filling or show how some tool works and let the kid give it a try. You can discuss the options with the doctor in advance.
After the dentist visit, it might be a good idea to give a gift to the child to reinforce the positive experience.
What can you do if your child fears visiting the dentist?
Parents often give their children negative reinforcement about oral care without even realising they are doing so.
When kids eat too many sweets or neglect to brush their teeth twice a day, parents may warn them about all the cavities the dentist will find and how painful the treatment could be.
“Without proper care, your teeth will fall out” – that’s how we usually put it, creating this deep fear of dentists and dentistry in general.
Therefore, the first thing you can do to help your children overcome their dentist phobia is to change your approach to dental health care.
Turn daily brushing into a game and show by personal example how important oral care is: brush your teeth together twice a day, visit the dentist regularly and tell your child about your experience. Make dentist appointments an integral part of life.
In addition, you can play dentist at home. Get a toy medical kit and let your child treat their plush friend, explaining the purpose of each tool.
Tell them how happy their patient is after a dentist appointment – perhaps the little dentist will want to switch places and become a patient.
You can also follow these practical tips on how to help a child overcome their fear of the dentist:
- Teach your child to speak freely about their emotions, both positive and negative. Being afraid is okay. Try to support the child and share their fear rather than denying it.
- Communicate with your child and let them know why they are going to the clinic, what the doctor will do and what to expect. Be honest – if you say the doctor will only examine the tooth when you actually plan to pull it out, the kid may not trust you again.
- Don’t force it. Holding a crying kid in the clinic or threatening them may result in a traumatic experience. Be prepared that the child may refuse to even sit on the chair during the first appointment. It is better to go home and try again later if the kid isn’t ready yet.
- Hold the child by the hand or sit on the chair with them. The majority of paediatric clinics will agree to such requests.
- Promise a reward for the kid’s courage, and keep your word. For example, you can promise the kid that they can keep the tooth after the extraction and change it for a gift from the tooth fairy.
Continue to encourage your child to take proper care of their teeth after a dentist visit – always with a supportive attitude and personal example. Children will be proud to show off their progress when the next appointment comes around.
By having regular dental check-ups with a positive experience, kids eventually will become more comfortable with dental procedures and overcome their fear of dentists.