For some reason, the dental surgery has become an almost universal place of dread, and even something to be feared in extreme circumstances. As such, it’s no surprise that it can be difficult to motivate some adults to visit their dentist, let alone children.
Like most fears and phobias, being scared of a trip to the dentist is irrational. A dental surgery is a place of health, healing and positive outcomes. So, from the very outset of child’s dental health journey, you need to ensure that your child is able to put their fears aside, and develop a healthy relationship with the dentist.
The impressions they build now will stay with your children for life, so make sure you keep these things in mind before you make your first trip to the dentist with your child.
Understand the Fear; Don’t Dismiss It
If your child is anxious or frightened about going to the dentist talk to them about it. If you approach their fear with an attitude of, ‘bad luck, you just have to go’, the more intense their fear will become.
In comparison, if you talk to your kids about their fears and explain calmly and reasonably why they have nothing to be afraid of, you become an ally and not an enemy that is dragging them along to this horrible place. An experienced paediatric dentist will understand that children are frightened and they will have a series of techniques to allay these fears, so once you get them through the door you should have nothing to worry about.
Foster the Relationship
This step is vital, as it will help your child to develop a positive lifelong oral health routine. Instead of saying things like, ‘don’t worry, it’s just a short appointment’ or, ‘if you go now you won’t have to go again for another six months’, you should focus on the positive aspects of a trip to the dentist.
Tell them that the dentist is a good place and a very important place for children to visit as it helps them to have strong, healthy teeth so they can lead a healthy life. Show them a picture of one of their heroes, who will always have perfect teeth, and explain to them that they wouldn’t be like that if they didn’t go to the dentist. It’s all about replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones and turning the trip to the dentist into a healthy habit rather than something to be endured.
Don’t Lie to Them
Part of building a healthy relationship with the dentist involves being honest about what they should expect. If you tell them that it won’t hurt at all, your children will feel lied to if they feel that first little tug. Again, you need to address the negative part (the pain) and turn it into a positive by explaining that although it may hurt a little bit you’ll have beautiful, healthy teeth for the rest of your life.
Never Use a Trip to The Dentist as a Threat
If your children are refusing to brush their teeth or are engaging in some other form of oppositional behaviour, never use the dentist as a form of punishment. Using the dentist as deterrent reinforces the idea that it is an unpleasant place to go and somewhere they should try to avoid as much as possible.
Be a Good Role Model
Even if you have your own phobia or anxieties regarding the dentist, try to hide these as much as possible from your children. If they see that you feel scared every time you go to the dentist, they will model this behaviour.
If you are completely comfortable at the dentist yourself, you could try taking your kids along to your own dental appointments or even schedule yourself an appointment on the same day as theirs. By doing this, and allowing your children to see you having a check-up, you normalise the entire process and make it far less frightening.
Let the Dentist Do the Talking
Your dentist will have the experience to explain what is going to take place in child friendly terms. They have plenty experience in keeping children calm whilst in their chair, and know which soothing techniques tend to be most effective. And, most importantly of all, they know what sort of language and explanations to use when describing the appointment to children. After all, your dentist has been doing this for years and has probably seen thousands of scared children. So, when you’re telling your kids about the dentist while you’re at home, keep things fairly broad—don’t talk about injections, drilling and scraping just tell them that an expert will be looking after their teeth.
Parents will know that despite the best intentions and all the preparations in the world, things can often go terribly wrong before appointments—every parent has a story about the tantrum-to-end-all-tantrums that was thrown right before that important wedding / dinner / party. So you need to be prepared for what might happen before you get to the dentist. If your child starts to protest on the day, try to stay calm and go through all your positive affirmations again. If you become stressed, so will your kids, and a stressed child doesn’t make for a good dental patient.