The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders estimates that nearly 10 percent of people in the US suffer from dental phobia, otherwise known as fear or anxiety at the dentist’s office.
Many people cite a traumatic or painful experience at the dentist’s office in childhood as the reason for their apprehension and disquiet over routine dental care.
If you want your child to stay calm and cooperate at the dental office, here are some ideas.
Take your child to a relaxed and comfortable dental practice, beginning at an early age. Children should begin seeing the dentist after the eruption of their first tooth and definitely before they turn a year old.
Look for a welcoming and experienced dental practice that specializes in family or pediatric dentistry.
At Nate Lewis DDS, we work with children on a regular basis and are aware of the normal anxieties children have when exposed to a new situation.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the dentist and what might happen. While you’ll want to avoid scary words like “drill,” “hurt,” and “shot,” you should let your child know what to expect at their visit.
Whether they will get their first filling or they will have a baby tooth extracted, kids like to know what’s going to happen. Make sure to stress that dental treatments will stop tooth pain later and shouldn’t hurt.
Talk about how the dentist will use medicine to make sure it doesn’t hurt.
Be an example
Let your child watch you first, if possible. With older children, it may be possible to allow them to sit in the corner and observe your exam and cleaning.
If you’re able to have fillings without a problem, you may also want your child to see that it isn’t traumatic. Seeing you go through the process without issue can be a huge confidence boost to your child, especially if you are calm and relaxed throughout the entire procedure.
If you have a tendency to white-knuckle your way through, have your child wait in the waiting room. Any anxiety or fear you experience will be obvious to your child and scare them.
Use imagination to your advantage
Play pretend with your child and allow them to “practice” with a stuffed animal. Pretending is good practice for unfamiliar situations.
Wash your hands carefully and have your child lay back on the couch. Look inside their mouth, count their teeth and hold up a mirror to show them what you’re doing.
Use a toothbrush to gently brush around in their mouth and don’t be afraid to put your fingers in their mouth to look around.
After their “exam,” have them re-enact the same with a toothbrush and a stuffed animal. This will help make the experience normal and nothing to fear.
Don’t offer a reward
Don’t try to bribe your child or offer rewards for enduring the dentist. Children understand from a very young age that rewards are often given for putting up with something unpleasant or frightening.
By treating going to the dentist as a normal, everyday event, you are teaching your child that there is nothing unusual or special about it.
This can help reduce their anxiety and not make a production out of it. If your child does well at the dentist’s office, praise should be sufficient before quickly moving on to the next item on your daily to-do list.
Dental phobia is very common and it often starts in childhood. These strategies will allow you to allay your child’s fear and keep them calm during their dental appointment.