Mom | Writer
Parents everywhere understand that without prior preparation a child’s trip to the dentist often ends in tears, wailing, or down right does not happen because the little ones won’t stop squirming long enough for the dentist to get a good look without hurting them. There is a lot of anxiety and fear surrounding the dentist.
I am an adult and still dislike going to the dentist. Having someone poking and prodding inside my mouth for long periods of time is not my idea of a good time. The tools are scary looking, even for me, so finding a way to make it more comfortable for my child without agreeing to give her laughing gas was important to me because that is exactly what the doctor wanted to do.
That is when I realized how serious this had gotten. My daughter and I left the office without rescheduling an appointment and I set out to change the way we look at the dentist. Here are some of the steps I took that made a world of difference.
Step 1. Positive Positive Positive
The saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” could not be more true than when it comes to dentist anxiety. I am sure I am not the only one who has made the mistake of voicing my personal dislike for the dentist in front of my child or telling her that if she doesn’t brush her teeth she will get cavities and have to go to the dentist. These ideas create a negative perception of the dentist before our kids ever enter the building.
This is especially important if the child already has bad memories of the dentist’s office. Abandoning the memories of an unfriendly dentist or painful experience in the past with a positive spin is key. The trick, like with anything with kids, is to make it as lighthearted as possible. The dentist is nice, friendly, and even fun. He’s not a stranger with metal tools; he’s a family friend with “tooth mirrors” that are going to clean the “sugar bugs” off your kids teeth.
Step 2. Pretend Visit
This was very important for my daughter’s transition from deathly afraid to leaving with a smile on her face. I spoke with her dentist’s office and explained what I wanted to do and they were extremely understanding. We scheduled a time that worked for everyone and they made her feel extremely welcome and she left happy. She was able to talk about teeth and the proper way to clean them with the dentist. She examined the tools used, the lights, and her favorite—the mechanical chair. She left with a baggy of goods and a new toothbrush.
After the pretend visit make sure that the next real visit is short as well. Reintroduce the dentist in small increments.
Step 3. Use Their Imagination
Imaginary play is another way to contribute to a positive outlook on dentists and the experience. If the dentist saves Harry the Hippo from drowning and then helps him with his toothache your young child is much more apt to look at him/her with an eye of admiration than with fear or uncertainty.
Using Google, I also found several dentist games online. Depending on the age of your child there are games that allow your child to play dentist and help Santa, SpongeBob and countless more get their teeth fixed and leave happy because they were saved by the heroic dentist.
Step 4. Be Picky
Choosing a dentist is not an easy task. There are so many offices out there and most of them are still very stale and unwelcoming for children. Find a colorful place with dentists that are experienced at working with children. It is okay to call before you schedule your appointment for your child and ask about the establishment. If they have issues with you asking questions then it is not the place for you or your child.
Step 5. Distractions Are Good
If your child wants to bring Harry the Hippo (or her favorite stuffed animal) along to the dentist appointment it is probably a great security blanket and not a bad idea. My daughter enjoyed being able to listen to music or watch a movie. At some dentist’s offices there are televisions in the room but for the ones that do not a tablet or iPod will suffice as well. This can be a bit of a hassle but if it helps to get through what has the potential to be an unpleasant experience, it is worth it.
That being said bribery is not the way to go. Telling a child that they get ice cream or some sort of prize if they behave will only further perpetuate the dental anxiety and create a space of fear. Kids might worrying about getting in trouble because they were scared.
Creating a safe space where your child feels confident explaining his or her fears and is able to have them understood, addressed, and conquered is the end goal. Addressing what is scary about the visit and having a safe hand movement for when something is hurting or scary is a good way to help make them feel more at ease during the actual appointment as well.
Good luck on your journey to healthier happier teeth and gums for your little one. The tooth fairy will be proud.
About Rose Rennar