Let’s face it: going to the dentist can be scary enough for adults. After all, what person did you ever meet who was looking forward to their root canal or multiple wisdom tooth extractions? So it will be no surprise – especially for any parent – to learn that many children are completely terrified of the dentist. If you think first day of school was bad, try getting the typical five or six-year-old to slide into a dentist’s chair and sit still while the dentist pokes, prods and pulls inside their mouth.
But rest assured: there is hope. Here are some simple and helpful dos and don’ts for getting rid of any child’s fear of seeing the dentist.
Do Start Your Child’s Dentist Visits at an Early Age
Have your child see a dentist no later than their first birthday. Simply put, the sooner your child grows acclimated going to the dentist, the better. After all, a child is highly unlikely to develop anxiety around something they’ve already grown comfortable with. But there’s another very good reason to schedule regular dental appointments for your child as early as possible: they will have better teeth. And better teeth mean less frequent and less painful dental visits. And that’s something that will make any child smile.
Don’t Promise a Reward or Offer a Bribe to Get Your Child to Go
Bribing or offering a reward for going to the dentist can frighten children even further; even very young children can be savvy enough to realize they are being bribed for a reason.
Don’t Make it Too Complicated
Sitting your child down and speaking to them in-depth in a serious tone of voice about having their cavity pulled or teeth cleaned will likely lead to your child growing apprehensive. If you make it seem bad, your child will think it’s bad.
Best to explain to them simply and pleasantly that it’s time to see the dentist. Don’t make a big fuss about it. If they require a procedure, prep them for it, but minimize what’s going to happen. Avoid using words like “pain” or “surgery,” or any word you know they have a negative association with.
Don’t Tell Them Any Dental Horror Stories
Don’t use fear tactics (as in, “If you don’t go see the dentist, all your teeth will rot and fall out”) or share any of your own negative dental experiences. Your child will not have terrifying visions of going to the dentist filling their heads unless someone puts them there.
Do Explain the Benefits of Good Oral Hygiene
Just as you explain to your child the benefits and necessity of washing their face or taking a bath, explain to them all the virtues of brushing and flossing their teeth and regular dental check ups. Let a young child look at seeing the dentist as just another element of maintaining healthy gums and teeth so they can flash a perfect smile.
Don’t Warn Your Child About the Dentist or Create Negative Associations
Careful not to tell a five or six-year-old, “If you don’t brush your teeth more, you’re going to have a painful visit with the dentist,” or “If you don’t take better care of your teeth, you’re going to have to get painful and ugly braces.” It’s unfortunate, but many parents assume their child has a fear of the dentist and then try to reinforce that fear to create good oral hygiene habits. Best to deliver a positive message about the importance of taking care of teeth and gums.
Do Consider Sedation Dentistry
In some cases, you may not be able to calm your child’s fears and ease their anxiety about a dental visit. That’s where sedation dentistry can be a lifesaver. Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas, for example, is headed up by a licensed dental anesthesiologist who has extensive experience using various types of sedation methods to treat patients with intense fear — or children with special needs. The two most common types of sedation for use on children are nitrous oxide (our old friend, Mr. Laughing Gas) or oral sedatives. Either will go a long way to ensure a comfortable visit to the dentist with a minimum of pain or fuss.
Don’t Put Off Your Child’s Dental Check Ups
Young children with fears and anxieties can be difficult to deal with. When it comes to regular dental check ups, it may become tempting to simply put them off until the future, when hopefully your child may be less fearful about them. That would be a big mistake.
If your child throws a tantrum about going to the dentist and you respond by indefinitely putting off the appointment, you are only confirming their worst fears (“the dentist is something bad that can be avoided”), which will surely only grow with time. Plus, you are delaying your child getting acclimated to regular dental visits and seeing them as nothing to have anxiety about.
In conclusion, whatever a child’s apprehension or issues regarding going to the dentist, deal with them, dispel them and establish good oral care at the earliest age possible. You and child will benefit from it.
Robbie Callahan is a freelance writer based in Southern California. He has been writing about fitness, health, and wellness for nearly 10 years.