How many adults do you know who love going to the dentist? Chances are, whatever you answered, that number is probably pretty low! When you ask adults why they don’t like the dentist many of them can track their initial negative feelings about dental work to childhood experiences.
It’s not only adults who suffer from dental anxiety though. Whether because of misconceptions about what dental appointments entail, or because of initial experiences with a dentist – many children also experience dental anxiety.
The American Dental Association recommends that children start going to the dentist around 12 months of age, and attend regular appointments every six months – depending on the child, and the recommendations of the dentist that they see. However, if a child is experiencing even minor anxiety about going to the dentist – it can be difficult as a parent to pull the trigger on making the next appointment.
So, what can you do? Here are some tips to help ease your child’s anxiety about their next dental appointment:
- Be open and honest with your child about what to expect. It doesn’t help to pretend that there won’t be some discomfort at the dentist, and there might even be some pain. If your child thinks that you are holding back information or lying about what will happen – they will be far more likely to have a negative impression of what their dentist appointment will be like.
Part of your child’s anxiety may simply be the fear of the unknown. You can help put these fears to rest by describing to them what a typical dentist appointment is like. If you are able – you may choose to attend the appointment with your child, that way you can walk them through what is happening, or encourage the dental staff to do so during the appointment.
- Validate your child’s feelings. Through validation we let our children know that they are seen, heard, and understood. Validating their feelings will let them know that their feelings are important to you; they will feel connected and supported. While they may still feel some anxiety, they will be better able to deal with it knowing that their feelings are important to you.
- If it is an option – find a pediatric dentist in your area. Pediatric dentists tend to have more kid friendly offices. The dentist and their staff will have experience dealing with young patients and may be more apt to talk your child through the appointment, distract them if needed, and reward them at the end of the experience.
- If your child has already visited the dentist and had a negative experience – it’s not too late to help ease their nerves about future appointments. The same techniques that work for first time patients can work for children who already have experience at the dentist’s office. Make sure they know exactly what to expect. Talk to them about what was negative about their experience – don’t negate their feelings, let them know that what they felt is valid. Let your child know that preventative dental care is far less painful and time consuming then restorative dental care, and that any discomfort that they might experience is ultimately temporary and for their benefit.
- The simplest way to ease anxiety is to be a good example. By going to regular dental appointments, and doing so with a good attitude – you are letting your child know that dentist appointments are a regular part of life, and while they may not be the most enjoyable – they are necessary, and beneficial to overall health and well-being.
It is natural for children to have some anxiety about seeing the dentist for the first time, and if they have had a painful or uncomfortable experience that anxiety may continue to subsequent appointments. You can help ease your child’s anxiety and discomfort by being open and honest with them about the appointment, validating their feelings, finding the right dentist for your child, educating your child about the need for preventative care, and by setting a good example when your own dental appointments come around.