With whirring drills, bright lights, and gloved hands reaching for you holding sharp shiny objects, it’s no wonder many children are afraid to visit the dentist. Many times, children don’t understand what is happening when they are taken for their regular dental cleaning. With strange sounds, smells, and sights, it can be an intimidating environment leading to a fear of the dentist. It is normal for kids to fear the dentist, but if not treated early, it can lead to an adult phobia.
Overcoming the Fear
Start at a Young Age
As children age, they are more likely to develop environmental fears. Taking your baby to the dentist upon the arrival of their first tooth, and no later than age one, can help your child become acclimated to regular dental visits. Many pediatric dentists provide toys, games, and stickers for children while they wait. These positive associations can help prevent children from developing a fear of visiting the dentist. Another advantage of taking your child to the dentist early is to prevent baby tooth decay and childhood cavities, which can lead to more serious problems as they continue to develop.
Make Dental Visits Routine
Setting expectations and communicating a plan is a great way to prevent and alleviate environmental fears. Your children’s dental visits should never come as a surprise to them and should be communicated clearly in advance of the appointment. Treating a dental cleaning as an errand on a normal, routine day can calm any fears or uncertainties your children may have before their visit.
Keep it Positive
Positive reinforcement through a fun toy or activity following your children’s dental visit is a great way to provide positive associations with a visit to the dentist. Giving your children something to look forward to after the appointment can help ease anxiety and take the focus away from the stress of the appointment itself. Believe it or not, this can sometimes lead to your children looking forward to trips to the dentist!
A positive association can begin before your children’s dental visit as well. Playtime activities (role-playing dentist and patient), as well as cartoons and books featuring dentists and dental visits, can help your children learn more about what dentists do and what they might expect during their visit.
What if Nothing Seems to Help?
There are cases where children are simply inconsolable during a visit to the dentist. This can be a dangerous situation that could harm your child and the staff. Pediatric dentists have a set of procedures for such occasions. If your child experiences a severe fear of the dentist, call ahead to discuss options with your pediatric dentist.
While many children fear going to the dentist, this fear can be overcome through positive reinforcement, education, and exposure. With a little patience and time, a trip to the dentist can become a normal part of your child’s healthcare routine.