6 Tips to Help Kids Overcome Their Fear of the Dentist
It’s common for little ones to get scared and anxious when it comes to dentist visits. Having a stranger inspect inside your mouth can be daunting, and films like Finding Nemo — with its horrific portrayal of dentists — don’t exactly help the situation.
But dental hygiene is hugely important and dental visits don’t have to be scary. Your little ones just need a bit of help relaxing and letting go of their worries. Here are six tips to help your kids overcome their fear of the dentist.
1. Let Your Child Know What to Expect at the Dentist
Being afraid of the unknown is a fairly natural fear to have, so if your child hasn’t visited the dentist before, it’s understandable that they’d be more than a little apprehensive.
To ease their nerves, let them know what to expect. Tell them how the dentist will examine their teeth and look around their mouth with a mirror. You could get them to practice saying “ahhh” and opening their mouth nice and wide. You could also role play with them, and take it in turns to play the dentist so that they get used to the idea of what might happen in the dental clinic.
One thing to remember though is not to use scary words when explaining dentist visits. Don’t use words like “injection”, “pain” or “hurt”, and don’t tell them any dentist horror stories! Even if you have a case of dental anxiety yourself, try not to let your child know. Kids often inherit their fear of the dentist from their parents, as it becomes a learned behaviour.
2. Start the Habit of Regular Dental Checkups Young
Ideally, your little one should visit the dentist before their first birthday, and by the time your child is two years old, they should be having dental checkups every six months. This way, the dentist can keep an eye on your child’s tooth development, and your child will start getting used to dental visits from a young age.
The more familiar they become with the dentist, the less they’re likely to worry about checkups.
3. Tell Your Dentist about Your Child’s Nerves
If your child is really anxious about their dentist visit, it’s best to let your dentist know. Most experienced dentists are used to working with children (and even adults!) who are anxious, but by letting them know about your little one’s nerves, they’ll make sure they do their best to calm and reassure them.
They may also have props they can use, such as soft toys, to entertain and distract kids while they’re having their teeth examined.
4. Don’t Offer Rewards for Visiting the Dentist
This might be a surprising one, but rewarding your child for visiting the dentist can actually make their dental anxiety worse. If you offer them a treat for going to the dentist, or for “being brave” during the examination, you’re actually implying that there’s something to worry about.
And if you’re offering sweet treats as a reward, not only could this encourage a fear of the dentist, but it also goes against dental advice to limit sugary foods — and you may find more trips to the dentist are in order!
5. Choose a Child-Friendly Dental Clinic
Choosing the right dental clinic is one of the best ways to make sure your little one feels at ease during their dentist appointments. While most dentists will treat children, there are some that are more child-friendly than others and specialise in treating children and nervous patients.
Some dental practices may have toys and fun pictures for kids to play with while they wait for their appointment or to look at during their examination. Some dentists may also be more experienced when it comes to calming children’s nerves and dealing with any potential tantrums. Look at dentist reviews and websites, or even call and ask if they welcome little patients.
6. Book an Appointment in the Morning
One thing that makes dental anxiety worse for patients of all ages is suspense. The longer you spend anticipating something, the more time your mind has to worry. If you book your child in for an afternoon appointment, they might be worrying about it all day — especially if they don’t know what to expect.
By booking an appointment in the morning, your little one won’t have time to worry about what’s to come. Instead, they can get their appointment out of the way early in the day — and when it’s over, they’ll hopefully realise that a trip to the dentist isn’t all that bad after all.