Easing your child’s fear of the dentist

Fear of dentists is all too common among children. It’s also one of the primary reasons that adults fail to get needed dental work done, and these fears can be passed down to children.

Helping children to deal with anxiety over being in the dentist’s chair is the best way to ensure that they will take care of their teeth as they get older.

Seeing the anxiety of their parents can be a major cause of their fear; if you are positive about your dental experiences and help kids to understand there is nothing to fear, they will likely follow your lead. Dental procedures can also sound scary. Be sure to explain to your child what is involved in any dental procedures he or she requires. Your paediatric dentist can help you understand the process yourself so that you can explain it in a way that won’t be frightening.

If your child has already had a bad dental experience, that could also lead to fear.

Here are some tips to help your little one:

Start young: The earlier they start going to the dentist the better. Their first visit should be within six months of the first visible tooth or by 1 year. “This will provide your child with a ‘dental home’ where all their needs — whether a periodic preventive visit or an emergency — will be taken care of,” says Rhea Haugseth, D.M.D., president of the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry.

When preparing for a visit, especially the first time, try not to include too many details. Doing so will raise more questions, and may cause unnecessary anxiety. Keep a positive attitude when discussing an upcoming visit, but don’t give your child false hope.

“Avoid saying that everything will be fine, because if you child ends up needing a treatment, they might lose trust in both the dentist and you.”

Don’t use the ‘S’ (shot),’H’ (hurt) or ‘P’ (pain) words with children. “Let the staff introduce their own vocabulary to children to help them get through difficult situations,” Dr. Berg suggests.

Before the first dentist appointment, play pretend with your child to be the dentist and the patient, Dr. Berg says.

All you’ll need is a toothbrush. Count your little one’s teeth by starting with the number 1 or the letter A. Avoid making drilling noises or lining up other “instruments.”

You can even hold up a mirror and show them how the dentist might look at and check their teeth. Then let your child role-play by using a toothbrush to clean the teeth of a stuffed animal or doll. This will help your child familiarise themselves with the routine so he/she will be more comfortable.

Do NOT take your child along with you for a dentist visit, it may look a lot scarier and your child may pick up anxiety from you, even if you think you handle it fine.

“It is normal and age-appropriate for a young child to cry, whine, wiggle, and not want to be examined by a stranger,” Dr. Haugseth points out. “Stay calm and remember that the dentist and her staff are used to working with children and have seen their share of tantrums.”

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