The fear of going to the dentist is a very common occurrence in children, with studies showing that up to 16% of school-age children have anxiety about dentists. Because of this, many parents struggle to get their child to go to the dentist, often dealing with fighting, crying, or even biting. It can be an overwhelming experience for both parent and child!
Four key causes of dental-related anxiety in children:
- Fear of the unknown
- Pain or unpleasant sensory experience
- Social perception
- Negative associations
With these four causes in mind, these five tips will help you implement a positive association with the dentist in your child’s mind, teaching them about the benefits of dental care and turning “going to the dentist” into a fun experience instead of a dreaded one!
1. Imaginary Play at Home
We all know that kids will turn anything into a game and revel at the chance to play with their parents. Try some light imaginary play while at home to get your child used to the tools or supplies they might see at the dentist. Incorporate a mask, gown, some gloves, practice brushing, and floss into their play.
Let them have fun with it too by practicing on you or one of their favorite toys. Perhaps you could even create a playdough mouth with cavities to have them clean using kid-friendly tools.
By allowing your child to be the dentist in this role-play you are giving them a sense of control and creating a positive association with it. They will understand what is happening next time they go to a dental office and might even get some ideas for their next play-time!
2) Educate Them About the Dentist
Read some fun books or watch some videos online about the importance of brushing your teeth and what to expect at the dentist’s office. By taking the time to educate your child about good dental hygiene, they will have an understanding of why the dentist is important.
You can even ask your dentist if they could take time before your child’s checkup for a tour of the office and a rundown of what machines or tools are used for what.
Children are naturally inquisitive and by educating your child they will lose that fear of the unknown. Remember to be open and honest about what will happen at their visit, but be conscientious of your wording. If they are very young consider using more kid-friendly words for otherwise medical terminology. For example, a cavity can be called a “Sugar Bug”, so instead of drilling the tooth the dentist is “tickling” the tooth to get the sugar bug out.
You know your child best, just remember to keep it an open experience for them, welcoming their questions and discussing their concerns.
3) Be a Good Role Model
It is no secret that kids look up to their parents and will often copy what they are doing. In this instance, you can use it to your advantage. By going to the dentist frequently yourself and also not complaining or showing your nervousness, they will try their best to be like you. As mentioned before, a big factor in children’s anxiety in association with dentists is a learned fear which may happen by watching their parent’s and family members’ apprehensions about a dental appointment or hearing them complain about it. So take the time to show your child that it is not something to fear and is very important for their health.
4) Use Positive Reinforcement
Using positive reinforcement will help your child and is probably the most crucial tip on this list. Make sure to praise their good behavior by telling them how proud you are of their bravery and that they are taking care of their dental health. Praise their smile after the dentist, emphasizing how clean and beautiful it looks!
If your child does act up at the dentist, either crying or refusing to open their mouth, resist the urge to force them to move forward; This will only create a negative cycle.
Instead, calmly talk with them after you get home and ask them why they were afraid or acted that way. Sitting your child down to talk about their fears or anxieties will make them feel heard, they will see that you respect them and only want what is best for them. That way you can work on their fear of the dentist together.
5) Go to the Dentist Regularly
Not only is it good for your dental health to schedule a dental checkup every 6 months, but it will also provide a sense of familiarity for your child. By providing a child with a familiar environment they will begin to develop a sense of security. They will get used to the procedures and know what to expect with each visit.
Their anxiety will naturally decrease as you make going to the dentist part of your routine. Another benefit of scheduling consistent checkups is you have a higher chance of catching cavities or issues before they become big problems. This can help decrease the amount of pain or discomfort your child will experience with each visit.
Hopefully, these tips will provide a useful toolbox for parents to help ease that anxiety in their children, creating a positive experience for all! Book an appointment today to have a quality experience with a dental professional!