Anxiety and the Dentist, What to do if your child is afraid.

Fear is Normal

It comes as no surprise when kids have anxiety concerning the dentist. Some kids will scream and cry, others won’t open their mouths. Other kids melt down before they even make it inside the office. While these behaviors can be surprising and even upsetting, as a parent you can breathe easy. Know that these are completely normal and predictable responses. Many kids struggle with anxiety when meeting new people or trying new experiences. Adding in the pressures of a new environment, intimidating equipment and someone else’s hands in your mouth and you’ve got the perfect recipe for fear. So how can we help our little ones get accustomed to their dentist appointments? 

Visit First!

Meeting new people can be nerve racking for children, especially when there might be several new people all at once. Visiting the office before your first appointment can help with day-of anxiety significantly! Arrange a meeting for your child and the office staff to get to know each other. Show your child that their dentist is someone who is friendly and wants to help them! A great option for younger children is to have them tag along for the appointment of an older sibling. This gives them a chance to see someone else have a positive experience with the dentist before they have their own. It also gives you an opportunity to explain what the dentist is doing while the older child is in the chair. Often this can help children develop their own positive mindset of what happens.

Explain Why?

Education is the best way to ease anxiety for adults and children! Using positive terms that they can understand, explain to your child why going to the dentist is important. You can watch kid friendly youtube videos on dental health, or show them examples of bright, healthy adult smiles. Show them their own teeth in the mirror and make a habit of praising the completion of their cleaning routine. Help your child understand the importance of caring for their smile with both at home and in office care.

Positive Talk

The words you use around your child can strongly influence the way they perceive a situation. When preparing your child for their appointment, use words and phrases that are easily relatable for them. If you have to over simplify that’s completely fine. Try ideas like “the dentist is going to clean the sugar off your teeth” or “counting teeth”. Try to avoid words with a negative or scary connotation like shot, drill, examine or pain. Focus on language that will help them understand this will be a positive and pain-free experience.

There are two things to steer clear of when preparing your child for their appointment. The first of which is sharing negative personal stories. Maybe all of your dental experiences haven’t been the best. Sharing that information with your child, will only reinforce the fear that something bad will happen. Work to avoid relaying the idea that if they don’t go to the dentist now, it will be worse later. Using phrases like “they’ll have to pull your teeth out or drill on them” only instill fear. Shifting the focus to rewards will help keep their overall mindset toward the dentist a positive one.

Make It a Reward

If your child just isn’t a fan of their dental appointment, that’s okay. Try giving them some positive reinforcement after the appointment is over. Help your child associate a positive reward with their trip to the dentist. Consider taking them to the playground when they’re finished, or rewarding excellent behavior with a movie. Try to make effort the focus of the reward. Sometimes they may not be able to make it through the entire appointment, that’s totally okay too! At Chillicothe Pediatric Dentistry we often tell our patients that it’s okay to be scared about something new! Just trying to do the best you can makes us happy! We also offer a prize, sticker and new toothbrush as a reward for a job well done.

Recap

Preparing your child before his or her visit to the dentist can make all the difference. Both in how they feel when they arrive at their appointment and going into the furtue. Choose positive, calming words when describing the dentist and dental appointments. Consider a mock appointment in your own home, using a toothbrush to count each tooth. This shows your child that a dental checkup isn’t complicated and won’t hurt!

Remember, it’s completely normal for your child to have some apprehension and worry about their dentist appointment. So be understanding with them and work with your dentist to promote a friendly give-and-take relationship. One of the most rewarding parts of the job for us is welcoming an anxious and tentative child to the office for the first time, and watching them leave relieved and often laughing by the end.   

To learn more about our practice, and ways we help keep kids calm and happy check out some other blog posts!

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