How to Help Your Child’s Fear of the Dentist
Is your child afraid of going to the dentist? If so, they aren’t alone. There a lot of children who have a fear of the dentist – and who can blame them! As a child, having a stranger poke around your mouth with metallic, loud tools can be scary.
So, as a parent, helping your child feel comfortable at the dentist is important for instilling good dental habits. Unaddressed, childhood fears tend to get worse over time. Here is our advice to help your little one feel more relaxed at their next appointment.
Begin taking them at a young age.
The earlier you are able to take your child to the dentist, the better. This helps to establish a good relationship with the dentist in the event that you need to make an emergency visit. And even for regular dental examinations.
Your child can begin seeing the dentist when their first tooth ruptures or at the age of 1.
Keep explanations simple.
Your child may have a lot of questions before their visit to the dentist. But do your best to keep your responses as simple as possible. Giving away too much information can lead to further questioning or create unneeded anxiety.
Try keeping a positive attitude without promising things you can’t guarantee – like promising that it’s just a cleaning. Your child may have some tooth decay or gingivitis and end up needing further treatment.
Be careful with your wording.
Just like promising things you can’t guarantee, try not to associate negative words with the dentist such as shots, or pain. A pediatric dentist from Pennsylvania suggested telling your child that the dentist will be counting their teeth and checking their smile.
Some examples of words to stick to include: clean, healthy teeth, and strong.
A good way to get your child used to, and even excited, about the dentist is to play pretend. You can read books or watch videos about good dental hygiene and then encourage your child to pretend to be the patient or the dentist. You can even have them clean all of their stuffed animal’s teeth! All you need is a child-sized toothbrush.
Remember the dentist has seen it all before.
It’s completely normal for your child to be fussy and wiggly at the dentist. Try your best to stay calm and follow what the dentist guides you to do. We’ve seen it all before! You may just be asked to hold your child’s hand or read them a story.
Rely on praise over bribery.
Experts recommend not relying on bribery to encourage good behavior at the dentist. Doing so can spark the question “why would I cry at the dentist?” and make it seem like it is something they should be afraid of. Instead, try using encouraging words after the appointment and remind them of their bravery and strength.
Teach your child the importance of oral hygiene.
February is the perfect month to teach your child about good oral hygiene as it is National Children’s Dental Health Month. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests letting your child pick out their own toothbrush, reading books about oral hygiene, and making good dental habits seem like a choice rather than a necessity.
How can I make the dentist seem less scary?
Teaching your child good oral hygiene from a young age is important for creating a lifetime of healthy teeth. To help lessen your child’s fear of the dentist, you might have to get creative. Our suggestion for easing your child’s dental anxiety includes:
- Start taking them at a young age.
- Keep your explanations of the dentist simple.
- Be mindful of your wording.
- Play dentist with them at home.
- Be patient and remember the dentist has seen it all before.
- Use positive encouragement over bribery.
- Educate your child on good dental habits.
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