There may be only one thing that kids hate more than a trip to the pediatrician – and that’s a trip to the dentist. Unfortunately, oral health has a lifelong influence on overall health, even being linked to major ailments like cancer, heart attacks, and diabetes. So if your child would rather spend a whole Saturday doing homework and eating spinach than sit through an annual teeth cleaning, check out these 9 tips to help your kids get over a fear of the dentist.
The earlier your kid has memories of the dentist, the more the process will feel familiar and routine. Most children’s primary teeth first start coming in when they’re around 6 months old, so a good rule of thumb is to plan your first exam around their first birthday. Treating dentals exams and new teeth as milestones may even encourage kids to feel pride at how fast and strong they are growing!
Choose Your Dentist Carefully
If your child is already expressing a fear of the dentist, seek out a provider that is known for their bedside manner. Would your child be most confident with a dentist who is silly? Nurturing? Maybe one who has the best (and cleanest!) toys in the waiting room? Review sites like Yelp are an easy place to uncover these kinds of details.
Once your child builds rapport with a dentist, stay consistent. Kids thrive on routine, and there’s no reason to mess with a good thing! If you do get word that your dentist will be retiring or moving, see if it’s possible for them to introduce your family to your their replacement at your child’s final appointment with them. This will provide a sense of continuity that helps put your little one at ease!
Stage a Practice Visit
If it’s your child’s first trip to the dentist, you’re switching practices, or it’s simply been a while between visits, don’t be afraid to play doctor at home. First take the role of the encouraging dentist, and allow your “patient” to ask as many questions as they’d like. Then, switch roles and show your child your calmness and enthusiasm for staying healthy.
Lead by Example
If your child is apprehensive about their upcoming appointment, let them tag along to one of your own. Seeing you engaged and at ease sets a positive example and shows your kids that there’s nothing to fear.
Bring a Touch of Home
Waiting rooms might have great (albeit germy) toys, but as we’ve proven with house calls, a little familiarity goes a long way towards easing kids’ anxiety. Bringing along their favorite toy, security blanket, favorite music, or lucky sunglasses may be just what the doctor ordered!
Prepare your Dentist
If your child has a fear of the dentist, your provider will benefit from having a heads up. Be sure to communicate any trigger words, specific fears, or even likes and interests that might help your dentist relate to them.
Learn the Lingo
It’s important to keep communication open, but for many kids words like “shot” or “drill” can be scarier than the procedure itself. Ask your dentist for advice on how to talk to your kids about dental procedures without creating anxiety, and make sure you’re on the same page about the vocabulary you’ll use.
Keep Your Cool – No Matter What
Let’s face it – if you kid has a serious fear of the dentist, there’s probably a tantrum on the horizon. But the worst thing you can do is overreact. Children look to us for behavioral cues, so if you want them to remain calm, it’s essential to lead by example.
No matter what age you are, going to the dentist can cause some anxiety. While it’s perfectly natural, it can also be mitigated by having a game plan! Have any tips of your own to share? Tell us in the comments below.
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