Garrett was four when he went to see his new dentist. Fidgeting in the big dental chair and anxiously holding onto Pooky (his stuffed teddy bear), he cautiously asked the dentist if Pooky could go first. The dentist smiled and “examined” Pooky. After seeing it was all fine, Garrett had his own exam. Years later he still remembered this, and was never afraid of a visit to the dentist again. This may be a wonderful story, but studies show that a full 20% of school aged children are afraid of the dentist. Finding the right dentist, along with the proper approach, can help to prevent a lifelong dental anxiety that ultimately can lead to poor oral health.
Stopping Childhood Dental Anxiety Before It Can Start
Children often have anxiety about medical and dental checkups and procedures. A dental anxiety however, can make it very difficult for the dentist to do their work. Fear is a normal response, especially in children, who do not know what is about to happen, or perhaps feel that they have no control.
A good family dentist has the education and experience to understand the needs of children, and how they see the world. They can comfort and sooth children by explaining exactly what they are going to do in a way that children can understand and relate to. They can empower a child and make them feel good about caring for their own smile.
Children are naturally curious. By using models and other educational tools, a good dental team can make oral health interesting. Positive experiences go a long way towards building trust, eliminating fear, and building lifelong good oral health habits. Other ways to reduce dental anxiety in children include:
Starting early: The American Dental Association recommends that children see the dentist before the age of one. This way the dentist can check the child’s teeth and gums, spotting any possible issues while they are easier to address.
Use simple terms and be positive: talking about the dentist in a friendly way can help lessen fear. If the child sees that you are calm, they will tend to be more calm themselves. Many dentists also encourage parents to be present during the exam so that children feel safer.
Try to avoid scary words: The dentist will know to use words that do not cause anxiety. They may tell the child that he or she needs to count their teeth, or see how big they can smile. Pediatric and family dentists have special training to help them make children feel at ease. Parents can follow their lead, using positive phrases and encouragement to lessen fears.
Play pretend: Just like Garrett, children feel more in control when they play pretend. Consider using picture books with positive stories about seeing the doctor or dentist before the appointment. You can encourage the child to clean their doll or stuffed animal’s teeth or even using a mirror to count their own teeth to help them feel at ease about an upcoming visit.