Mostly, everyone has a very complicated relationship with the dentist … it is understandable that the dentist is not everyone’s favorite doctor! The unfortunate truth is that fear gets passed on from parents to children quite easily!
The question is how to start that relationship for my child and keep it awesome? Base it on mutual love and shared benefit; not on hate or fear? Wouldn’t that be a great gift we give to our children and ourselves?
To answer this question, 2 main points to focus on are:
- How to be proactive, and not allow fear to set in?
- What to do/not to do as a parent!
I. Proactive aka how to prevent my child developing fear at the dentist:
Here are 4 Facts for us to act upon:
- Fear is normal, accept it: It is important to understand that it is absolutely normal for children to experience fear of the unknown, like a dental visit, because it can bring a lot of uncertainty to a child. Coupled with a fertile imagination and irrational fear, it can be a disastrous combination. Understanding that your child maybe scared despite your best efforts helps you guide past the fear and into the lesson to be learnt.
- Reasons for fear: even without prior dental experience!
- Find and negate bad stories about dental visits: Children hear horror stories from other children at school –the grapevine where gory details and terrifying experiences are being exchanged!
- Don’t take your child with you to your dental visit: A child can perceive a normal check up and a cleaning being done for an adult in front of them a total nightmare! We may not realize it but the way children see things is so different than the way we see things!
- Start visiting your dentist early: If we wait until the child’s teeth start to hurt him, subconsciously he/she start to anticipate more pain. The irrational possibilities of more pain takes over their thinking and sometimes you can’t convince them otherwise.
- Don’t take them to your dentist!: Although taking the child to your (adult) dentist instead of a specialized child dentist may seem like a convenient idea at the time, however, it runs the chance that the child may get scared by any of the things seen. Not only that, a child may refuse dental treatment altogether after this episode and may not trust another dentist for a while.
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II. What to do/not to do? Now that we understand what contributes to a child being scared, there are a few ways for us to get it right the first time.
Here are 5 Strategies to introduce the child to dentistry very early on to avoid dental fear:
- Start by presenting the idea of visiting the dentist in the form of a bedtime story for at least a month before the imminent visit- consistency is key!
- It’s a great idea to show one of those cartoon characters going to the dentist- this introduces the idea n allows the child time to digest it- as you may already know children r very good at copying! If you tell them the expected behavior, and model it, it will be easy for them to follow!
- Educate your child about the effects of dental disease. Give them the knowledge and then make them responsible for their own health. If they do understand the difference between health and disease early on, they will be actively engaged with their dentist.
- Promise your child a reward after setting the desired goal. Don’t bribe! Bribing guarantees the child it will b nasty or unlikable, where as a reward makes sure they will want to repeat the positive behavior again to be rewarded.
- Taking your child to the right dentist- who specializes in children means the difference between a child who is scared and fearful vs one who is happy at the dentist and who grows up with healthy attitudes. It is totally worthwhile to invest in finding a dentist who has extra training to deal with children and is educated in child psychology. The perk is that not only he will be super friendly, his staff will be too; actually, the entire environment is geared towards children catering to their every need!
Making dental visits FUN, how about that?
Pediatric dentists will also advise about longer lasting treatment options so the dental work can be done only once! They also place a great emphasis on understanding root causes of the child’s individual reasons for getting the decay and how to prevent it from the root cause. They also place growth into consideration!
Truth be told some kids may still remain scared after all this! That is completely normal, go on read my second part of this blog about other ways we can control a child’s fear at the dentist.
Dr. Yasmin Kottait DDS, HDD, MFDS Ed, MSc
Specialist Pediatric Dentist