Despite the rumors, most adults are not afraid of going to the dentist. For adults, visiting the dentist is a necessary part of a healthy life. Children, however, do not have the same experience and familiarity with the dentist, as adults do. To children, the dentist is an unknown. Most children (and adults for that matter) have a fear of the unknown.
To Children The Dentist Might Equal Pain
Whether they have seen their parents experiencing discomfort after a major dental procedure, or they have experienced the pain of a cavity themselves, many children associate the dentist with pain. Pain hurts, and human beings will avoid it at all costs. Many children are also unable to differentiate between going to the dentist and going to the doctor, where they may have been given shots/vaccinations or experienced discomfort.
Here are some tips for parents to help children overcome their fear of the dentist.
Model Correct Behavior
- The next time you have a routine appointment with the dentist, take your child with you. Have your child observe the entire process. Explain to your child what the dentist is doing, as the dentist is doing it. Make sure the child sees that a routine trip to the dentist is pain-free. Afterwards, make sure your child is aware of how amazing your newly cleaned teeth feel and how happy you are to have healthy teeth and gums.
Read Dentist Stories to Your Children
- There are numerous children’s books available that portray visiting the dentist in a fun, inviting, and colorful way. Children’s stories about visiting the dentist will put the dentist and the whole visit in terms that a child can relate to. When the stories portray the dentist as being fun and exciting, then the child will believe that about the dentist as well.
- Role playing with your children is a great way to have them experience what it will be like at the dental office. You can create a fictitious dental office in your house with a chair, fake instruments, and all. You can be as elaborate with it, as you want to be. Take turns with your child pretending to be the dentist and patient. Pretend to check your child’s teeth, diagnose cavities on x-rays, and talk to your child about their teeth brushing and flossing habits. When the visit is over, and your child was a good patient, you can even give him/her a sugar-free sucker.
Bring Your Child’s Favorite Toy
- Talk to the dentist ahead of time to make sure it is OK for you to be with your child throughout their appointment. Keep the mood in the room light, humorous, and fun. Bring your child’s favorite toy or stuffed animal, as long as it does not get in the way of the dentist being able to perform the necessary work. If a child has a parent and his/her favorite toy alongside, they are much more likely to feel safe and unafraid.
Tell Them How Great They Are Doing
- Parents can use positive reinforcement to help their children be less fearful of the dentist. While at the dental office, be sure to consistently give your child encouragement and positive affirmations like: “You are doing a great job”, or “You are awesome for being so brave.” Before the visit, you may feel it appropriate to incentivize your child to be unafraid of the dentist by promising them a movie or a toy for being a good patient.
For most adults, visiting the dentist has become routine, and it is not event to be afraid of. For children, it is a different story. Adults sometimes forget that most of life’s experiences are new to children, and the unknown can cause fear. The main ways parents can help their children overcome a fear of the dentist is to be models of proper behavior and make the dentist as fun of an experience for their children as possible.More