Taking your children for their annual dentist visits is important to keep their teeth healthy as well as to encourage healthy oral hygiene habits early on.
Dental anxiety in children is actually a major public health concern as it can lead to poor oral health. It is actually quite common if your child happens to be afraid of visiting the dentist which may cause them to undergo various symptoms such as cardiac sensations, trembling, sweating and paresthesia (pins and needles).
Dental phobia is a real thing and can prevent children and some young adults of availing of the best oral and medical care that need.
Here are 9 tips to make sure that your child feels comfortable and relaxed with visiting his/her dentist:
1. Start Them Young
The earlier your child becomes acquainted with your dentist the better it will be for your child as he will begin to view it as his “dental home” where all their oral needs can be taken care of.
2. Give Them As Much Information as Possible
Children who are naturally a bit anxious will tend to be a bit more relaxed if they know what’s going on and will react much better to a procedure. It is helpful if your dentist explains the entire procedure to both you and your child together so that your child knows exactly what is happening. This is known as the “tell-show-do” method and gives your child a sense of both control and predictability.
3. Use Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are particularly useful to children who suffer from anxiety as they help reduce their dental phobia and allow them to relax a bit. Simple deep breathing exercises, such as deep inhalation and slow exhalation or asking a child to blow bubbles through a wand, can help to bring relief. Muscle relaxation techniques can also help as this loosens up your child’s body. What this means is that the child would systematically tense, and then relax each muscle group of the body while lying in the dentist chair.
4. Watch Your Words
Let the dental staff introduce your child to their own vocabulary to encourage and help them get through any difficult situations. Avoid using any negative words around your children when talking about any dental procedures that they may be undergoing.
5. Consider a Pretend Visit
Pediatric dentists recommend acting out a “pretend visit” with your children prior to the actual visit. Keep your child engaged by letting them role-play. Get your children comfortable with this routine so that they are comfortable with their real dental visit. Let them practice being the patient and you be the dentist and then switch roles. They can even practice with a play dentist kit.
You may also like I Am Going to the Dentist: A Social Story to Prepare Children for Dental Visits
6. Reinforce the Positive
Positive reinforcement in the form of small rewards such as stickers and sweets can be a useful incentive for cooperation and for brave behavior.
7. Use Systematic Desensitization if Time Allows and Be Involved
This involves a gradual introduction of dentistry to your child over a period of time while encouraging them to relax and help reduce their anxiety. You can allow this exposure to happen by scheduling additional appointments with your dentist prior to the actual treatment procedure.
8. Don’t Pass Your Own Dental Anxiety Down to Your Children
Your battle with dental phobia is your own and you should not share it with your children as it is bound to spark off a similar type of anxiety in them.
9. Emphasize the Importance of Good Oral Hygiene
Instill the importance of regularly visiting your dentist in your children. You can simply explain the health benefits of visiting the dentist on a regular basis.
The Dentist’s Role
Your child’s dentist should:
1. Speak to them in a friendly voice, which can become firm only if necessary for procedural purposes
2. Speak in simple and easy to understand words along with demonstrations that can be displayed on a doll
3. Recount great stories that will encourage, engage and ease your children’s anxiety
4. Use encouraging words and positive body language to acknowledge positive behavior at he dentist
5. Your dentist can opt to sedate your child if he thinks that it’s necessary to ease the child’s anxiety
Check out this kid-friendly video about going to the dentist
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This article was reviewed and edited by Rachel Wise, certified school psychologist, licensed behavior specialist, and CEO of educationandbehavior.com.