Some kids sail through their first dental examination without a worry. Unfortunately, for others the experience is more difficult. Most children feel at least a little nervousness about sitting in the dentist’s chair. And for some, their anxiety becomes a real problem that gets in the way of treatment and dental health.
Trying to force the issue will have damaging effects that could last for years, so it’s vital to treat the situation with care and understanding. Here are some ideas on how to help.
1) Start Young and Slow
It’s better to start with dental checkups as young as possible, usually around the age of one year. If problems show themselves at this early age, don’t put examinations off hoping things will get better on their own – they likely won’t.
Instead, take a step-by-step approach, introducing treatment slowly and gently. Let your child watch you have a carefree session in the chair, and then let them sit in it themselves, with or without a superficial examination.
Don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to, but just let them get used to the surgery, with its unfamiliar sounds and smells.
2) Speak to Your Dentist
Have a private conversation with your dentist explaining the level of dental anxiety your child is experiencing. Any experienced dentist will have come across this problem before and can suggest ways forward.
3) Always be There
One huge cause of dental fear in kids is separation anxiety, so always be there for your child during an examination to provide comfort and reassurance.
4) Keep Early Exams Short and Simple
When the time comes for a first real examination, make sure you keep it simple and unthreatening. Let the dentist take a look in your child’s mouth without touching or using instruments. Maybe even make sure the overhead light is pointing away rather than directly into their eyes. It’s better to start small rather than rush things and add to anxiety.
5) Explain Fully, But Gently
Prepare your child for a session in the chair by describing carefully what’s going to happen, and why it’s a good thing. Explain that the dentist is a special kind of doctor who will make their teeth look and feel nice.
Avoid all scary words such as pain, needle, or fear, but don’t try to deny or gloss over your child’s anxiety. It’s essential that you’re honest so that your child learns to trust you about what’s going to happen.
6) Try Role-Play
You can increase this trust by practicing dental role-play in the security of your home. Let your child play the part of both dentist and patient, letting them take the game as far as they safely want to.
7) Don’t Bribe
It’s important not to use bribery to persuade your child to go to the dentist. This will only set in stone the idea that they need a reward for something that’s unpleasant.
Additionally, bribing your child and making a huge deal out of the whole situation just marks dental treatment out as something to be wary of. Be gentle but firm, and don’t enter into any bargaining.
8) Consider Sedation Treatment
Hopefully, your child will soon become willing to have routine examinations and no further treatment will be needed for a few years. But if fillings or extractions do become necessary, consider sedation to prevent any fear or trauma undoing the good work of reducing your child’s fears. Your dentist can advise on the best way of approaching this.