We know that many adults are afraid of the dentist, but that fear often starts early, even before the first childhood visit. While dental anxiety is common in people of all ages, instilling good dental hygiene habits in children early is important to healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime.
Before you read our tips to help kids overcome their fear of the dentist, we want to stress that a little nervousness is normal. Visiting the dentist for the first time can feel scary, especially if your child has heard tales from friends or older siblings. But remember that they will hopefully be in a dentist’s office at least twice a year for the rest of their lives, so working through those initial butterflies is worth it.
Tips for Helping Your Child with Dental Anxiety
Here are our best tips for helping your child avoid or manage their fear of the dentist.
Keep it positive
You might be fighting through your own dental fear to make sure your child feels comfortable. Even so, do your best to use positive words to describe oral health and trips to the dentist.
Talk to your child about how healthy teeth and gums are important, just like healthy tummies or healthy bones. Avoid describing instruments or procedures in detail. Try getting excited about how “grown up” a child will feel when they do a good job in the dentist chair.
Above all, avoid mentioning shots, tooth pulling or drills. Your child might not need any of those things, and even if they do, hearing about them ahead of time can make those imaginations run wild.
Try a “practice run”
A few weeks before the visit, talk through the idea of a “checkup” with your child during your daily tooth brushing routine. Ask your child to “open wide!” or “smile big!” so you can “count” their teeth. Make this a fun activity that you can both play through each morning and night.
Then, a few days before the visit, tell your child they’ll be visiting the dentist and that the dentist will also be performing a checkup. Speak in a calm and easy tone and describe things like the cool chair they’ll get to sit in, the tiny mirror the dentist will use and the big light.
Remember to keep the language positive. Answer any questions your child has at a high level. And remember to continually emphasize how important it is to have a healthy smile.
Don’t wait until you think your child might have a dental problem before visiting the dentist. Even if you follow tips one and two, if your child’s first few visits involve more in-depth procedures beyond a basic check-up it will be hard to overcome that initial dental anxiety.
In fact, a dental practice that specializes in pediatric dental care can begin seeing patients as infants, or as soon as their first baby teeth come in. Getting a child used to the sights, sounds and smells of a dental office when they are young will help tremendously as they grow.
Schedule a pre-visit
Some dental practices will allow a pre-visit for you and your child. We want to emphasize that this pre-visit should be different than simply bringing your child along to your own appointment. You might already be feeling anxious or are scheduled for a difficult procedure, so this type of visit might have the opposite effect of what you intended.
Instead, we recommend asking if the child can come for a short visit to see the office at a neutral time. They can meet the staff or even the dentist and see how things are different from a general doctor’s office. They can also ask questions about their appointment and feel more at ease when it’s time for their “real” visit.
See a specialist
Pediatric dentists are specially trained to understand kids, their unique dental anatomy and their fears. They also are familiar with their wiggles, their questions and how they need to hear and absorb information.
While general dentists can treat any patient of any age, pediatric dentists specialize in the dental issues that affect kids. They can help with concerns like thumb sucking, identify potential orthodontic issues early on and treat those all-too-common kid mouth injuries. Plus, pediatric practices are generally designed with kids in mind, with brighter color palettes and kid-friendly tools and amenities.
You might not be able to alleviate every fear your child has about the dentist, but these tips will help you get started. Your dentist will also play a large role in calming your child’s fears. We bet if you like your dentist, your child will too.
Experienced Children’s Dentists in Columbus Ohio
Are you ready to introduce your child to a children’s dentist? Our Clintonville pediatric dental team at Capstone Dental understands how important it is to keep your child’s smile healthy and cavity-free. We will do all we can to ensure your child remains comfortable and happy during their dental appointments. Contact us today to schedule a cleaning or exam for your child.