Dental anxiety is prevalent among young children and, in many cases, can stem from an adult's own dental fears (whether you recognize them or not). If left unmanaged, going to the dentist can become an unpleasant ordeal for children. But it doesn't have to be that way.
As a parent, you can take steps to manage your children's dental anxiety before it interferes with oral health. This will help ensure they have a beautiful, healthy foundation for their smiles from childhood to their teenage years and beyond.
1. Offer a Simple Explanation of What to Expect
As a parent, you need to tell children when they'll be visiting the dentist and what it will be like. After all, just the look of a dental office and meeting a stranger can be frightening.
By giving children basic information about what to expect during their visit, you can put their minds at ease and make them feel more comfortable. You don't have to go into complex detail because the dentist is trained to answer questions children ask in a straightforward, easy-to-understand manner.
2. "Practice" for a Dental Visit
Familiarity breeds comfort and this certainly applies to children and the dentist! For some children, dental anxiety is the result of not knowing what will happen at the office.
A great way to overcome this is to pretend play a dental visit. Have children sit in the "chair," count their teeth, and hold up a mirror to show them how a dentist might examine their mouths. You can even encourage children to brush their dolls' or stuffed animals' teeth to get more accustomed to the dental routine.
3. Don't Offer a Reward for Good Behavior
It can be tempting to promise children a lollipop, movie, or other physical reward for good behavior at the dentist, but doing so could actually make them expect a negative experience, thereby increasing their apprehension.
Instead of bribing children with a material incentive, offer verbal praise following an appointment. This is a great way to show that you're proud of them and convey that going to the dentist isn't so bad.
4. Explain Good Oral Hygiene
Kids don't always understand why checkups are good for them, but they do understand tangible outcomes. For example, telling children they're getting strong because they eat their veggies is better than trying to explain vitamins and minerals they won't understand.
The same goes for dental visits. Be sure children understand that visiting the dentist will make their teeth strong and keep their smile looking great. These things can motivate them to want to go to the dentist (or tolerate it at the very least)!
5. Keep it About Your Child
It can be tempting to use your own dental experiences to put your children at ease, but you shouldn't. You may have some dental anxiety that you don't realize and could inadvertently convey this to your children.
Keep all of the attention focused on your children. Doing so will give them the confidence they need and reduce the likelihood of feeling anxious over their upcoming dental appointment.
Start Dental Visits Young and Start Them Right
Engaging in pretend play, providing simple explanations, focusing on your children and reinforcing positive experiences are useful tips to help manage pediatric dental anxiety.
Start dental visits at a young age between six months of age and no later than one year old. By starting visits young and starting them off right, you can create a positive early association with the dentist and avoid the screaming and crying matches that many parents accept as inevitable.