Not So Scary: Calming Your Child's Fears About the Dentist
No matter how old your child is, it’s a safe assumption that they might be fearful about seeing the dentist. Think about it: they’ll be lying in a chair in an unfamiliar place, listening to strange noises and seeing unusual tools, as a stranger pokes around in their mouth. They might be unnerved by the dentist talking to them while their mouth is wide open because they can’t answer. Or they are afraid of the drill.
Come to think of it, it can be a pretty unnerving place for adults too.
In order to make your child’s next cleaning a lot less scary, here is some advice for parents to calm their fears and make their next visit much more pleasant.
First of all, your child is in good company. Half of all American adults experience anxiety when going to the dentist, and one third simply won’t go at all. Without going twice a year, though, your child could eventually have more than just a mouthful of cavities. Not taking care of your teeth and gums can lead to heart disease, stroke, infections, and even some types of cancer.
Fortunately, new high-tech tools, pharmaceutical options, dentist training programs and talking to your child beforehand can ease his or her fears.
Because the fears range from fear of the unknown to fear of the drill sound or pain, it’s important to find a dentist your child is comfortable with. Does the dentist offer a kid-friendly atmosphere?
New dental training programs include psychology courses that show how to calm people’s fears. Some dentists learn how to become better listeners, looking for body language and other cues from the patients. They might even use humor to quell anxiety.
Be honest with the dentist right up front, so that her or she can make accommodations for your child.
You might not be aware that pain relief has evolved significantly in the last decade or so. You and your child might decide to use nitrous oxide, which wears off within minutes, sedatives, and/or local or general anesthesia, if the procedure is more complicated.
If your child has sensitive areas in his or her mouth, inform the dentist and he or she can work around it.
Before the visit, talk to your child about what to expect but avoid going into detail. Whatever you do, don’t mentions words such as “shot” or “pain.” Allow the staff to explain what will happen; they know how to do it best. Be positive and explain how important it is to take care of their teeth. The more they brush and floss correctly, which can be learned at the dentist’s office, the fewer trips and less procedures they will need in the future.
"My favorite thing to have parents tell their child is that we are going to check their smile and count their teeth – that's it, nothing else," said Michael J. Hanna, D.M.D., a pediatric dentist in McKee Rocks, Pennsylvania, and a national spokesperson of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
For families in the Houston area, Signature Smiles offers a kid-friendly environment to help relieve any anxiety your child may have about their visit. A kid’s waiting room equipped with televisions and stuffed animals is the first step in allaying fears, and the knowledgeable, family-oriented staff and dentists will put your child – and his dental health – in excellent hands.