How to make going to the dentist fun?
Going to the dentist can be a scary and overwhelming experience for children. Surveys have found that about 16% of school-age children have a fear of the dentist. Many kids never grow out of that fear, so it’s not surprising that between 5-6% of the adult population are still afraid of dental care, too.
However, it’s necessary for little ones to see a dentist regularly. They should be going at least once a year for a check-up as early as 12-months old. Teaching your kids the importance of oral health care earlier on will lead to lifelong healthy habits.
So, what can you do to assuage their fears and turn a trip to the dentist into something fun? Let’s cover a few ways you can liven up your children’s routine dental visit so it becomes something they look forward to, rather than something they fear.
Prepare ahead of time
One of the worst things you can do for a young child, or a child who already has a fear of the dentist, is to try to explain everything to them the day of their appointment. Worse than that, however, is not explaining anything at all.
If you want to ease your child’s worries, prepare them for the dentist ahead of time. How you do that is completely up to you, but if you’re looking for a few pointers, consider some of the following ideas:
- Talk to them about what their visit will be like
- Let them ask questions
- Use children’s books and cartoons to help convey the right message
- Emphasize the importance of healthy teeth
Giving your kids some control can also make a big difference in their perception of the dentist. Let them choose their own outfit to wear to the appointment, or pick a specific song to listen to on the way there. You can even talk about letting them pick their favorite spot to eat dinner once the appointment is over.
Anxiety and fear stem from the unknown. The more your child feels prepared for the dentist and knows what to expect, the less fearful they’ll be.
Start healthy habits at home
Talking to your children about the importance of oral care is one thing. Instilling those habits at home, however, will make a big difference in how they feel about the dentist. Establishing a strong oral health routine will help to reduce the risk of cavities in your children, often caused by improper brushing and/or flossing. It will also keep their teeth strong, clean, and healthy for years to come.
It’s easy to develop an oral health routine that works for your whole family. It should include things like:
- Brushing twice a day
- Flossing properly
- Limiting sugary or acidic foods
- Eating healthy foods
Your children should learn at a young age that part of keeping their teeth healthy involves seeing a dentist at least once a year. When they are comfortable with every other part of the routine, knowing the dentist is just another component of it won’t seem so overwhelming or scary. It’s easier to be proactive with your efforts than to wait until your child is dealing with a painful tooth problem. If they associate the dentist with pain, it could take a while for them to get rid of that fear and distrust.
Practice calming techniques
If the day of your child’s dental appointment arrives and they’re still nervous, you don’t have to cancel. Instead, work with your child to help them calm down and manage their fears. You can distract them by playing one of their favorite games or spending some time outside. Or, you can use proven calming techniques, like color therapy (did you know blue is a calming color that can boost your mood?), meditation, or mindfulness.
Sometimes, helping your child calm down and feel more comfortable about the dentist can be as simple as sitting down and talking. Ask them what they’re worried about and reassure them of what to expect and what they’ll feel like when the procedure is over.
Of course, it also never hurts to offer a reward or two for a “job well done” at a dental visit. Kids tend to be heavily motivated by reward systems. That could be anything from praising them for being so brave to giving them some bonus screen time after dinner because they faced their fears. When your child knows a reward will be involved after their dental visit, the experience can be more fun and exciting for them.
Now is the time, as a parent, to help your child fight back against any fear of the dentist they might have. When you make going to the dentist fun, you’ll help them establish a regular routine into adulthood, so they’ll keep seeing a dentist or oral health professional for the rest of their lives.
That’s something everyone can smile about!