Everyone agrees that regular visits to the dentists are crucial for good oral health. This is especially true for persons with manifesting tooth issues such as decay, periodontal disease, tooth erosion, and tooth sensitivity. Certain teeth issues are more common in children than in adults. Children enjoy sugary foods and may be reluctant to the celebrated rule of brushing teeth twice daily. This exposes them to dental caries and gum disease among other oral complications.
Child proneness to dental problems dictates the need to bring your child to a dentist regularly. But the dental visit is not your child’s favorite outing. Instead, announcing a dental appointment may be met with resistance. In sum, it’s no secret that children are afraid of the tooth doctor, maybe a little more than they are afraid of other doctors. This may make you apprehensive about how to prepare your child for the dentist. But why are children afraid of the dentist in the first place?
Tracing the root of dentist phobia among children
Children may be afraid of the dentist for several reasons. Some of these include:
- A somewhat natural association of the dentist with a pain-causing profession. From the metal objects that the tooth doctor uses to the blood he causes to run out of people’s mouths, the dental experience cannot be anything positive for a child that has witnessed any of this in reality or from media.
- The negative media images that portray dentists performing painful dental fillings and extractions.
- Expressions of fear and negative comments about dentists by parents and other adults.
- Negative past experiences with a dentist, real or imagined. Sometimes children may focus too much on the fear of visiting the dentist, and even though the practitioner only asks them to open their mouth for examination, the crying that may accompany it makes the visit a bad experience. In addition, a past dental visit that caused minimum pain prints a bad impression about the tooth doctor on the child’s mind
Regardless of the idea that children have about the dentist, dental visits are a necessity and your child will have to be their dentist guest at some point. So your question on how to prepare your child for the dentist still needs to be given concrete answers. Here are some preparatory actions you could take to make your child’s encounter with the dentist more pleasant.
1. Be generous when talking about the dentist in front of your child
If your child overhears you explain to a friend or partner about an awful experience at the dentist, they will definitely throw a tantrum the next time you announce a dental visit. If you have to, ensure that negative experiences with the oral health specialist are narrated away from your child’s ear.
2. Perform a mock dental visit at home
Especially if you are visiting your child’s dentist the first time and perceive fear from your child, role-playing the good dentist may go a long way in helping them relax and overcome the dentist phobia. Play the dentist who welcomes them with some child play, checks and treats their teeth with care and tenderness, and offers them some candy for being brave at the end of the visit. Even if the actual visit may be a little different, the word of mommy is credible and will make the experience a positive one.
3. Downplay negative past experiences at the dentist
If your child has been to the dentist and experienced some pain after a tooth extraction, presenting the experience as an isolated case will help restore your child’s faith in the tooth doctor. You may, for example, explain that the pain was because the tooth was completely damaged and that the doctor will not work on any damaged teeth this time around.
4. Narrate your own experience at the dental clinic
If you are planning to bring your child to the pediatric dentist in a week’s time, having your own visit a week before and explaining how quick and painless the experience was may serve as a reference for your child. You will capitalize on the unconditional trust that children have in their parents.
Some parents may consider bringing children along and having them sit in the dental room while the tooth doctor attends to them. Experts advise against this choice. Watching you spit out blood as the dentist drills the decayed part of your tooth may traumatize your child. Besides, your reactions may communicate fear and pain and achieve the complete opposite of what was intended.
5. Relate dental visits to daily oral hygiene practices
Relating the dental visit to the daily oral hygiene practices you have taught your child could create a positive approach to the visit. You may list dental visits among the practices of good oral care such as brushing teeth twice every day, eating fewer candies, and using a kids’ water flosser daily. If your child has learned to consider these as good oral hygiene choices, then they will readily appreciate the dental visit. This may also reinforce your child’s faithfulness to daily oral health practices.
6. Take a preparatory tour of the dentist’s office
A week into your child’s dental visit, you may opt for a preparatory tour to help them familiarize with the environment and watch other children come out of the dental room. You should be prepared to convince your child they are braver than the child who storms out of the dentist’s office crying their eyes out.
A treat at the end of the visit may make your child associate dental visits with good treats. This could be their favorite ice cream or a visit to an amusement park that the child has always desired.
7. Read or watch stories about children who had positive experiences at the dentist
The hero in a story has great admiration from your child and may be the answer to your predicament on how to prepare your child for the dentist. Reading or watching the story of a child hero who braved a root canal could be what your child needs to desire that dental visit. You will be surprised how your child will keep referring to the hero of the story and narrating over and over how fearless they were. If the ‘hero effect’ is accomplished, your child will definitely want to be like them.
8. Pay attention to your child’s emotional need on the day of the visit
However hard you have tried to calm your child for the dental visit, crying, resisting or other behaviors proper to an anxious child may still be manifested. Do not over insist on being brave but, instead, pay attention to the emotional needs of your child. This might mean holding on to a comfort object such as a toy while you head to the dentist office or during the dental examination.
Your child may also want to keep communication with you while the dentist attends to them. Consider devising a communication code prior to the visit. For example, you may agree with your child that they will cross their fingers any time they want to tell you something.
Fear of the dentist is a common phenomenon. It is no surprise, therefore, that children may show anxiety at the mention of a dental visit. As a parent, you will face the dilemma of how to prepare your child for the dentist. Be the ideal parent who wears your child’s shoes and uses all the possible means to help them approach the dental chair with ease and calm.
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