Children and Dentists: How to ease a child’s anxiety about their next check-up
Are you experiencing difficulty convincing your child that the dentist isn’t scary? Perhaps your child is fine until they get to the dentist office but once they see the cold, sterile room they scream and run the other way? Here are our tips on handling every stage of the dental check-up process.
Stage one: at home preparing your child for visiting the dentist
On the day of your visit we recommend that you tell your child that they are simply going to see the dentist so they can ‘check your smile and count your teeth’. No need to go to into detail. We also recommend you avoid using phrases like ‘everything will be fine’ or ‘it won’t hurt a bit’ because if there is some need for further treatment the child may lose trust in you and the dentist because they will realise that everything is not ‘fine’.
If your child is feeling particularly anxious and scared about their dentist visit, try engaging in a role-playing activity with their favourite stuffed animals. You pretend to be the dentist and show your child (on their teddy bear) what the dentist does. Then let your child be the dentist and perhaps practice on you. You will be surprised at how quickly this eases your child’s anxiety.
Our final tip for at home is: don’t bribe your child to behave. Telling your child that they will get a treat if they don’t cry or fuss at the dentist may be misconstrued by the child. That is, they may think ‘why would I cry? It must be scary’. Plus, isn’t bribing them with a lollipop counterproductive to our dental message of cutting back the sugar to preserve your teeth? Instead of bribing them before the visit, surprise them with a sticker or small toy after the visit as a reward for being so well behaved.
Stage two: At the dental office
Waiting rooms like ours at KIDS Mackay are tailor-made to appeal to children. Our practice is full of toys, books, iPads and other things to keep your child amused while waiting. However, if you do find yourself in a waiting room without these amenities, we recommend you distract your child with reading a book, colouring in, or playing fun games such as ‘I spy’. This will ease their anxiety and also project an idea of fun which they will then associate with the dentist’s office.
Once you are in the exam room, let the dental technicians guide you on how to interact with your child. Some technicians prefer you stand back from your child, whilst still maintaining eye contact. Others may prefer you to hold your child’s hand, as a form of comfort as well as a way of preventing them from grabbing at the equipment.
Stage three: After the visit
Following the visit talk to your child about it. Ask them questions like ‘what did you like the most about visiting the dentist’. Even talk to them about the technicians; comment on their hair, the glasses, the face mask etc. The more you talk about it and make the dentist seem like a ‘normal’ person, the less likely your child is to be afraid of the next visit.
Let your child see you rebook the next appointment. This will send the message to them that dentist visits are normal, necessary and will form part of their health routine.
Finally, our best tip for making your child feel at ease with the dentist is to start them young. Even if your child only has 2 teeth, bring them along to see what it is all about. Let them see you have your check-up (and the calmer you are, the better) and they will see that sitting in the dentist chair, with your mouth wide open while someone probes around in there, is completely normal.
For more information or advice on how to make your next visit to the dentist easier contact our friendly team at KIDS Mackay or book an appointment.