Going to the dentist, as we all know, is a key factor for maintaining our kids’ oral health. Still, it typically doesn’t sit at the top of most parents’ or child’s to-do list. Being told to sit still — often tipped back in a big chair — with a bright light near their face and someone poking around in their mouth can make any kid nervous and scared.
Whether your child is mildly nervous or seriously afraid, try these strategies to make their visit to the dentist a more positive experience for both you and your child:
Choose a pediatric dentist. You may be happy with your dentist but a practitioner who specializes in treating kids and adolescents brings extra expertise and experience to the table. The very young, pre-teens, and teenagers all need different approaches in dealing with their behavior, guiding their dental growth and development, and helping them avoid future dental problems. Pediatric dentists have an extra two to three years of training beyond dental school so they are experts at managing fearful young patients. In addition, their offices are designed to be kid-friendly. Even little things like sunglasses to wear during their dental exam or having stuffed animals available for can help calm children’s nerves.
Start early. The AAPD recommends scheduling your child’s first visit as early as six months after the first tooth erupts or by his/her first birthday. You want to try and minimize their anxiety towards going to the dentist by scheduling regular bi-weekly visits before a problem like a cavity develops. The benefits of early and regular dental care are two-fold: Your child gets into the routine of seeing the dentist while they’re still young (and less nervous) and staying on top of any potential problems can cut their chances of needing extensive dental treatment down the line.
Have a desensitizing visit. Did you know that you can bring your child to the dentist’s office to get acquainted before the day of their actual checkup? If kids — or parents — are nervous we always recommend that they visit the office prior to their appointment so they can meet the staff, see where they’ll sit and find out what to expect during the exam. The whole experience can be overwhelming for some kids and by visiting the dentist office first, kids can get familiarized and come back another day knowing what to expect.
Stay close. Having a parent’s hand to hold or lap to sit on while getting their teeth checked out can be a big comfort for kids. A lot of times we’ll have nervous kids lay on Mom’s lap while the doctor counts Mom’s teeth and then the child’s. You should never have to wait outside; staying with your child during their entire appointment can make or break the experience for young children.
But don’t do too much talking. Yes, it’s tempting to maintain conversation in hopes of distracting your child during their dental exam, but you should resist. Letting the dentist do the talking will help him develop a better relationship with your child. If you have questions, speak to the dentist after he completes the exam.
Make the most of distraction. Many dentists’ offices have TV screens playing kid-friendly shows or videos mounted near the exam chair, or in our case, above the examining chairs, to attract kids’ attention. Another option: Allow your child to dress up for their appointment. Whether you let them dress themselves or wear their favorite costume, making it a fun experience for them can make all the difference.
Don’t let siblings or friends tell horror stories. Is your child’s older brother detailing the time his dentist pulled out his tooth so hard people could hear him scream from blocks away? Put an immediate stop to those types of stories as quickly as possible and don’t let them be jaded by horrific dental stories.