Having a little one at home means taking the time to teach them the importance of good oral health, and that includes developing a great relationship with your pediatric dentist. This, of course, starts with that first trip into the office.
For little ones, this new experience can be a scary time filled with unknowns. As parents and caregivers, there’s a few things you can do to help your child have a great visit, and alleviate many of their fears in the process.
1) Start by Being a Great Role Model
Who do your children look up to? You.
Children are like little sponges, soaking up every bit of information and emotion from the adults around them. It’s important that you be a good role model of dental health for your child long before their first dental appointment is made.
As their role model, you need to make sure that you are demonstrating good dental habits in front of them, and showing them how to properly care for their teeth. A child that knows they’ve done a good job taking care of their teeth is less likely to feel anxiety about going to the dentist.
Secondly, be conscious of your own feelings about the dentist. Many adults share the same level of fear about visiting the dentist that children do. There is nothing for your child to fear, so make a point of being aware of how your own feelings may be influencing theirs.
2) Start the Conversations Early
It is never too early to talk to your children about good dental care and what to expect during a dental appointment.
Help your child understand that their dentist wants to help them keep their teeth healthy. Avoid telling your child too much about “scary” dental procedures. For most children, going to the dentist is about establishing a lifetime of good dental habits. Even if your child does need services beyond a cleaning, avoid using terms like “drill” or “pain” that will only fuel their anxiety.
Instead, focus on all the helpful, and not-so-scary things that a dentist does. For example, helping them learn to properly brush their teeth, or how it feels to have your teeth cleaned.
Encourage them to ask questions, and be prepared to answer them in a way that eases their fears.
If your child wants to know if a certain procedure is going to hurt, be honest with them. Yes, some procedures are uncomfortable, but dentists have been trained to be gentle and they have medications that they’ll use to make sure that little or no discomfort is felt.
3) Have a Practice Visit
Just like adults, children can be afraid of the unknown. Playing dentist can help them better understand what will happen once they are in the dental chair. This alone will make them more at ease going into the experience.
For example, have your child sit back in a chair and show them how to hold their mouth open. This is also a good time to gently stress the importance of being still.
Practice brushing your child’s teeth, just like the dentist will and fully immerse yourself in the role play. Children learn through play, so this is a great chance to teach them about dental health and ease their fears at the same time.
4) Use Books and Videos that Show Children Having Positive Dental Experiences
Younger children might like the treat of having a book about the dentist read to them, while older children are more likely to benefit from a more realistic video that shows children in an actual dental office.
Both videos and books are great tools for helping children visualize what to expect.
5) Offer Comfort
Whatever you do, don’t dismiss your child’s fear or make them feel like they need to toughen up.
Do what you can to ease their worries, and offer comfort to them when they show fear.
A comforting item from home, like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, can be just the thing your child needs to feel more secure and comfortable in the unfamiliar environment.
These 5 simple steps can make a world of difference in how your child feels about their upcoming dental appointment. Start now so you both can look forward to a great experience.