Why Are Children Afraid of the Dentist?
When small children are taken to the dentist, often they find themselves in an unfamiliar environment, which makes them feel anxious and afraid. They have to sit in a strange chair, be around people they don’t know and let the dentist poke around in their mouth with metal instruments.
If that weren’t enough, many children acquire their fear of the dentist before they’ve even stepped into a dental office. Who are the culprits, you might ask? Sorry, parents, but when you’re anxious about the dentist around your children, it rubs off on them. Feeling the weight of responsibility yet? Don’t worry. We’ve provided seven tips that can help you help your child feel comfortable at the dentist.
7 Tips to Help Your Child Enjoy the Dentist
1. Start Young
Your child should be familiar with the dentist from the very start—beginning at age one or when their first tooth comes in. This will vastly improve their experience and attitude toward the dentist at an early age. They will be familiar with the building, the people and the process.
2. Keep Them from Adult Dental Offices
Taking your child with you to your dentist appointment isn’t a good idea, as good as your intentions may be. Any fears or anxiety you might have at the dentist will carry over to your child. And in an adult dental office, there are more serious procedures happening, which will add to your child’s fears if they hear or see anyone in serious pain. Additionally, any unpleasant dental experiences you share with them or around them will create even more anxiety.
3. Educate Them with Fun Books
Teach your child at a very young age that dentists are there to help us have clean and healthy teeth. Find a good book to explain it to them in a simple and fun way.
4. Simple Explanations
When preparing your child for their first visit, keep it on a need-to-know basis and keep a positive attitude. Use fun phrases to make them feel at ease. For example, tell them, “The dentist is going to check your smile and count your teeth.” They don’t need to know what that entails. However, don’t give them false hope. Telling them, “Everything’s going to be fine,” will only create distrust between you and them if they go to the dentist and everything was not fine. Also, watch your words. Avoid using the words: shot, hurt or pain. Trust the dentist and his/her staff to use the right vocabulary to help your child understand what’s going on.
5. Play Dentist
To help your child feel at ease, set up a pretend dental office in your living room. Pretend to be the dentist checking your child’s teeth. Get a toothbrush and count their teeth. Don’t make drilling noises or use any other instruments other than the toothbrush. You can even let your child look in a mirror as you’re counting his/her teeth. Then let the child play the role of the dentist and pretend to clean their stuffed animal or doll’s teeth.
6. Don’t Bribe, Encourage
If you bribe your child with something they can gain if they behave well at the dentist, then you might make them believe there’s something scary or wrong with the dentist from the very start. However, if your child does behave well at the dentist then afterward you can reward their good behavior with a fun trip somewhere, like the zoo, the movies, or another fun place.
7. Helpful Distractions
Take your child to a pediatric dental office. Those offices are kid-friendly. They have movies and TV shows playing, funny pictures on the walls and other toys your child will enjoy playing with. From the setting alone, your child will feel more comfortable at the dentist than they would without the toys. You can also bring along their favorite toy or game to help distract them.
In the end, children will be children. Your child still might cry, whine or wiggle around. That’s normal at their age. Let your dentist help. A good pediatric dentist should do some or all of the following for your child:
- Talk in a friendly voice but also become firmer if necessary.
- Explain the procedure to the child in simple words.
- Tell stories or have a conversation with the child to draw their attention away from the procedure.
- Use body language (smiling or frowning) to encourage positive behavior and discourage negative behavior.
- Use sedation to help the child relax and feel more comfortable if necessary.
If you have a dentist that doesn’t attempt to comfort and distill your child’s fears, consider searching for another dentist. You want a dentist that will really care for and help your child. If you have a plan with 1Dental, please visit our Find a Dentist page, enter your zip code into the browser bar, change the dentist type to Pediatric and click on your appropriate plan with us to the right of the browser bar so you can search for pediatric dentists in your area.