November 2, 2017
It isn’t uncommon for children to have a fear of the dentist. We all remember being small and being terrified that the dentist would be angry if we ever got a cavity. It also isn’t uncommon for people to carry these childhood fears into adulthood and then pass on these anxieties to their own children. If you were afraid of the dentist as a child, chances are you aren’t a huge fan of taking your own little one to see the dentist. If you’re willing to break the cycle, then there are many steps you can take to help your little one manage their fear and actually make a trip to the dentist FUN! As a dental assistant with a private dentist in Warrington, I’ve learnt a thing or two about helping children get over their fear of the dentist. Consider the following steps to help make a trip to the dentist fun for your kids…
One of the scariest parts of visiting the dentist for young children is that they don’t fully understand what is going on. The second they get in into their heads that the dentist might put a drill in their mouth, they are inconsolable and utterly petrified of what is to come. By helping them to take control of their trip to the dentist, you can help them to control this fear. Inventing a new language is one way for parents to help their children gain control of their fear. For example, one of my patients always comes into the practice with a big smile on his face and asks the dentist if he can sit in the space shuttle chair while he looks for the sugar bugs. The space shuttle chair is the dentist’s chair and sugar bugs are cavities.
Dressing up is a great way to fill your child with confidence. However, be warned that it’s important not to let your child think they are only brave when wearing a costume. Dressing up before going to the dentist should be a fun activity. But please don’t let your child wear a mask or a helmet as this can make it very difficult for the dentist to see their teeth!
If your child is afraid of getting in trouble at the dentist, then you can help to reassure them by making a star chart. Your child needs to take responsibility for brushing every morning and every evening, and they will be more likely to pick up this habit if they have a visual record of their hard work. By creating a star chart, they will be able to take this to their dentist and show off all of their hard work.
The number of times I’ve seen parents threaten their kids with withholding a treat if they aren’t well behaved is astounding. The treat should go ahead whether your child is a perfect angel or if they scream the building down. Your child only needs to visit the dentist once every 6 months, so if they are afraid, the best thing you can do is help them to build some positive associations with visiting the dentist. A trip to their favourite museum or a shopping trip to a bookstore is the best way to distract from the trip to the dentist. Just please, avoid handing out sugary snacks in exchange for good behaviour at the dentist!
The goofy dentist will a bag of tricks might delight some children, but others might be more comfortable with a soft-spoken dentist. Finding the right dentist who understands your child’s needs is really important. If you are lucky enough to be able to shop around to find the right dentist, this can really help your child to manage their fear and prevent them from taking their fear into adulthood.
Sometimes, kids just need to be able to talk about their fear. During a panic attack, they might not be able to articulate what is scaring them, but if you can speak to them before they get upset, they might be able to tell you what’s wrong. Often, talking about their fear will give you an opportunity to explain things to them that they don’t fully understand. One parent came to us and said that the child was afraid of sitting alone in the dentist’s chair, so we came up with a system where the dentist had a quick look at his teeth in the waiting room. After this, we build up to him sitting in his mom’s lap in the dentist’s chair. Then he just held her hand. And eventually, he was sitting alone in the dentist’s chair. Talking to your children is often the best way to combat their fears.
In summary, there are so many things you can do to make a trip to the dentist fun for children. Helping them to grow up without a fear of the dentist is so valuable as it means that they will be able to take good care of their teeth for life. Often, it’s the people who avoid the dentist that need the most dental work, so helping your child to develop a healthy mindset in regards to the dentist is highly beneficial.
Rebecca Harper is a dental assistant at Dental Solutions, a private dentist in Warrington. She is passionate about revolutionising dental care for young children.