How to make going to the dentist less scary for kids?
Successfully getting your nervous child to the dentist’s office can be a difficult endeavor! With the bright lights, pointy instruments, and masked strangers, it’s understandable that children can find going to the dentist to be distressing. This doesn’t change the fact that you need to instill good oral care in your tiny humans. Let’s talk about some ways you can make the dental appointment a little bit easier on your kids and on yourself.
Teach them while they are young
Start bringing your child to the dentist while they are young. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), you should take your kid to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth erupts. The earlier your child can get used to the dentist visit, the more comfortable they will be with the experience as they get older. Consider choosing a pediatric dentist. They will be trained to work with very young children and will have tactics for creating a positive and comfortable experience. Also make it a habit to help your kids maintain long-term oral hygiene practices, so that when they do have to go to the dentist it’s not as bad!
When discussing your child’s dentist visit, don’t use confusing or scary words like “shot” or “hurt.” Tell your child that the dentist needs to count their teeth or check for “sugar bugs.” If you try to describe the procedure too much, your child may become overwhelmed with images they don’t understand which can add to their stress. Choose a good dentist, and trust the dentist that they know what to say to young children. If you put too many things in your child’s head, it may undermine the process the dentist has to deescalate a distressed kid.
Because you only go to the dentist’s office twice a year, it’s a pretty foreign place to the fleeting memory of a sub-ten-year-old. It’s human nature to be afraid of the new and the strange. Acclimating your child to space is a great way to ease the fear of the dentist’s office. A great way to do this is to take your child with you during your dental appointment. That way, they get to see you, someone they love and trust, go through the experience and get out of it alive and well. Simply spending time in the office will make it less strange and, hopefully, less scary. Make an effort to tell your kids what a great thing it is to have healthy teeth.
The doctor is in
Ask the dentist or assistant to sit down and talk with your kid before they sit in the dental chair. Meeting with the doctor or assistant away from the lights and tools will help your child feel calmer and in control of the situation. They can then enter the room with a new friend rather than a stranger. You can even ask the dentist or assistant if your child can look at and touch the tools that will be going into their mouth. This will help them feel more in control of what is going on and remove some of the fear of interacting with the instruments.
Make it a positive experience
If you make the dentist visit fun and rewarding, your child’s dread might even turn to excitement. You can promise them a treat, a toy, or a special playdate with you after they successfully get through their dentist appointment. This positive association can relieve some of the stress that your child feels about the experience. This positive association can be compounded by a positive and loving attitude when you talk about and take your child to the dentist.