According to the American Dental Association, as many as one in five Americans avoid going to the dentist because they are afraid. A painful or traumatic early experience with a dentist is the cause of this fear for many people. With some planning and preparation, it is possible to avoid bad dental experiences and also teach our children that dental care is a routine part of a healthy life, much like going to the doctor. The tips contained in this post, including starting early, choosing wisely, and communicating clearly, will help you prevent dental fear for young children and ease the fear for a child who may already be afraid.
The time to begin teaching your child about dental health is right away when the first baby teeth begin to emerge. You can begin by wiping the teeth with a soft cloth every day to get your child used to the idea of tooth care. As your child grows, graduate with a soft child’s toothbrush and gradually let him or she do more of the brushing.
Choose a song that will be your teeth brushing song, and make it last about two minutes. Then when the song is done, so is the brushing. Let your child know that going to the dentist is something bigger kids do and enjoy. Then make the first appointment as soon as all of the baby teeth have emerged. Making this first appointment is especially important in fear-proofing your child. When you start visits early, before any dental problems arise, the first few appointments can be about getting used to the dentist, having fun, and celebrating a successful outcome.
Choose Your Dentist Wisely
Choosing a dentist who really enjoys treating children is a second step you can take. Many “experts” say that it’s best to go to a dentist who only treats children. But when a general or “family” dentist has received similar training to a specialist, your child from toddler to young adult can have just as positive an experience with a carefully selected family dentist. Having the same dentist for the family is something that makes scheduling easier and allows parents to build trust.
These days it is very easy to find out a lot about dentists by reading their websites. If a dentist openly welcomes children as well as adults, you’ll know that’s a good place to start. If you feel like you need more direction, ask around for a referral. People you know from work, church, sports, or child-centered activities are often the best ones to ask. You’ll know when you’ve found the right dentist because you’ll feel completely comfortable asking questions. Asking questions to your dentist leads to our third step.
Most dentists will spend a bit of time with you over the phone or in person to provide you with information and allow you to get to know them. Don’t be afraid to ask about specifics, especially if your child is afraid of an office visit. You can even ask for a drop-in session for children who are very afraid. This will give you and your child a chance to meet the dentist and see the office.
As stated earlier, many people are fearful after an early traumatic experience with a dentist. Many reports that a dentist was unwilling to wait for them to become completely numb and some people simply don’t get completely numb with novocaine alone. In addition, technology has progressed significantly since many of us were young. There are now newer ways to administer novocaine that are relatively painless so that when your child needs a cavity filled, there doesn’t need to be any pain.
Ask a few specific questions. Find out what a dentist does to make children feel welcome and safe. Ask if they provide pain-free injections. Ask what age they like to begin seeing children. Let the staff know if your child has had a bad experience and is already afraid. Ask them what they do to help alleviate dental fear. You should be able to get a good sense of how a dentist approaches childhood dental care by engaging with them in this way.
And finally, communicate clearly with your child. If you have a young child who isn’t ready for a first dental appointment, let them know when you are going to the dentist, and communicate your experiences positively so they can begin to see dental visits as a normal part of life. When they’re ready for their first appointment, tell them what they can expect without over-preparing them. If you aren’t afraid, it will help your children feel more comfortable. You can simply explain that the dentist and hygienist will want to look at their teeth and perhaps do a cleaning. But if you suspect something is wrong, or if your child is already fearful, let them know that you will be there with them, that you trust the dentist, and that you will both make sure that there isn’t any pain.
We can help our children build confident relationships with their dentists by leading by example and seeing our own dentists regularly and often. You can also build trust by starting your children’s appointments early, choosing your dentist wisely, and then communicating clearly. These measures will help you prepare your children for a lifetime of dental health and ease any fear they may already be experiencing.