How to Prepare Your Child for a Trip to the Dentist
There’s something about a visit to the dentist’s office that strikes fear into the hearts of many children, even if the dentist in question is a competent, good-natured individual who’s wholly dedicated to the care of kids’ teeth. Even after your child’s relationship with his dentist is established and his trust has been gained, there’s a strong chance that he’ll still be nervous or a bit frightened when the time for an appointment rolls around. These tips can help you prepare your child for his dental visits and eliminate some of the fear he feels about them.
- Talk About What Will Happen – Very often, kids’ fears are rooted in a lack of understanding or knowledge of what to expect from a given situation. Easing your child’s mind about his trip to the dentist may be as simple as explaining the purpose of the visit and giving him an idea of what to expect once he arrives. Before you discuss an upcoming appointment with your child, be sure that you have a basic understanding of what the visit will entail and how any of the possible procedures will work.
- Be Honest – It can be tempting to tell your child that he won’t be in any pain or discomfort, even if you know that he’ll be facing a filling or a procedure aside from a routine checkup and cleaning. Discovering that he’s actually going to have something more complicated performed can damage your child’s trust in both you and his dentist, making him even more reluctant about future visits. Rather than avoiding the issue or telling white lies, make a point of being honest and up-front about what will happen when he arrives.
- Explain Why Dentist Visits are Necessary – For smaller children, explanations about plaque, gum disease and tooth decay may be a bit too complicated. Still, explaining the importance of regular dental visits and a good oral hygiene routine in the most age-appropriate manner possible will dispel many of his misconceptions and clear up any confusion he feels regarding the dentist. Older children may still need a refresher course on the subject, or an explanation of any unfamiliar procedures he may be facing.
- Encourage Your Child to Ask Questions – Letting your child know that it’s okay to ask questions, and that you’ll answer any that he has with honesty, can spur him to ask about the things that frighten him. All too often those fears are unfounded or based on great exaggeration, making them very simple to ease. Because you can’t begin to make your child feel better or prevent irrational fears from forming if you’re unaware of them, it’s very important that you make every possible effort to understand his concerns.
- Don’t Minimize His Fears – It’s simple to tell your child that “big boys don’t cry,” or that his fears are silly. That approach, however, completely marginalizes what he’s feeling and can cause him to question the validity of those feelings. Rather than minimizing his fears in a way that casts them in a frivolous light, let your child know that you understand what he’s feeling, but that it’s important for him to face his fears so he can overcome them.
- Avoid Communicating Your Own Anxiety – Letting your child see your own reluctance to visit the dentist, or breaking the news of an upcoming appointment in a way that implies unpleasantness will only allow him to pick up the anxiety that you’re feeling, which amplifies his own. It’s important that you always make an effort to avoid sending the message to your child that dental visits are unpleasant events, or something to regard with dread.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that babies first visit the dentist when their primary teeth begin to erupt, or by their first birthday. Adhering to this guideline will allow you to introduce your child to his dentist when he’s still quite young, making it easier for him to grow accustomed to him. There are dozens of children’s books designed to get kids acquainted with the concept of visiting the dentist in a way that alleviates some of their anxiety in relation to the subject, so it’s wise to consider a trip to your local bookstore or favorite online retailer in the weeks leading up to an appointment.