Anxiety about visiting the dentist can be a roadblock for children and parents alike. Kids will almost always look to their parents for how to handle new situations in life. As parents, if we enter the dental office with any fears or anxieties, guess who will be picking up on that? Yup… our children. So how can you help you help manage your child’s dental anxiety?
Parents and kids affect each others’ perceptions and anxious tendencies, according to a study out of King’s College in London and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Looking at this through a positive lens, this means that as a parent you can reduce your child’s anxieties and your own. Let’s discuss a few ways that we as a parent/dentist team can give your child the best chance for a successful and positive dental visit.
Seven Ways to Manage a Child’s Dental Anxiety
1. Start Young
A child’s first dental visit is a welcome opportunity for our San Diego dental practice to help shape their vision of what dentistry can be like and help develop their feelings about “going to the dentist”. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends having your child see a dentist by age one, or six months after the appearance of the first tooth.
2. Choose a Kid-Friendly Dental Office
Pediatric Dentists are specialized to understand your child’s needs. The specific training in growth and development, as well as child psychology, lends to a much more thorough and kid-friendly visit. Prevention of decay is much easier for children than treating the cavities with fillings. The earlier your child learns how fun and rewarding dental visits can be the less stress there will be!
3. Stay Calm
Prior to the dental visit for your child, I recommend that parents perform a self-check about their feelings and attitudes about going to the dentist. If there is any negativity harboring of dental experiences from your past, this is the time to be aware of it as it can influence your child’s visit. Catching this early on and not letting your child unnecessarily or unintentionally adopt those same anxieties is a first step win.
Remaining calm during a dental visit can help minimize the time spent at the dentist and delay the potential use of sedation. Try to maintain a calm demeanor and use positive verbiage whenever possible. We will do the same!
4. Be Positive
Some of us cannot forget our experiences and may dread going to the dentist because of feelings of being berated or even chastised for cavities or plaque levels. It is mission critical that we not do the same for our patients. We never want to shame children for getting a cavity. Unfortunately, tooth decay is common, and we want to uncover the reasons why that a child has tooth decay and develop a positive and individualized strategy for prevention.
5. Promote Education
We want to make sure that our patients enjoy coming to see us and value the reasons behind what we are trying to accomplish. Education is an important tool to for parents and children to understand why we as dental providers recommend the things we do and what is expected of our patients to have successful outcomes. Education can also eliminate the “unknown” and decrease stress and anxiety. Again, it is important to keep things positive for your child.
6. Build Trust
In our office we love to spend lots of time at our initial exam or before any treatment is rendered to answer any questions parents or patients may have. A Tell, Show, Do approach for younger children is helpful to alleviate concerns about new procedures. Praising your child for a job that is done well or positive reinforcement can work well to continue to get the desired result.
7. Encourage Communication
If as a parent you feel anxious for your child and have questions for the dentist or staff, it might be a good idea to ask questions without your child present. This way the dentist can alleviate your concerns first and not alarm your child that anything is wrong. Sometimes the parents’ best of intentions to shield their children from potential stressors actually contribute to supporting their own anxiety and not their child’s needs.
We Are Experts in Dealing With a Child’s Dental Anxiety
Remember that a well-versed and seasoned pediatric dentist has been in this situation many times before and knows best on how to treat your child in an environment that may not be as familiar to you. At PDO Specialists, we have created an environment that kids and parents have come to love for decades! Sometimes just being in the hands of an experienced dental professional is all one needs to alleviate most dental concerns and anxieties.
Many other things can alleviate child/parent anxieties in the dental office as well such as:
- parental involvement/absence
- distraction techniques (including headphones, movies, video games)
- relaxation techniques
- creating a fun, friendly family environment
Taking your child to the dentist regularly and making sure they develop great oral habits is just one way in which you can help them stay happy and healthy. As dental professionals, we want to make sure that your child not only gets the best dental care they need but that they procure a sustained and positive outlook about going to the dentist. This leads not only to better dental visits but better follow through with home care and with developing the roadmap to continued dental care for life.
Watch for the second part of this blog where we will discuss other techniques and tips to reduce stress and anxiety for your child.
Do you have any suggestions for dealing with a child’s dental anxiety? Be sure to share with our readers by leaving a comment below.