Julie Green: The Other Side of the Coin

Jan
08
2017

5 Ways to Ease Your Child's Fear of the Dentist

Open up wide and say Aaaaaaah!

Does your child fear the person in the white coat? Mine does. After a recent visit, my seven-year-old is now positively petrified of the dentist. 

The fluoride plate caused him to gag. The scrape of enamel made his skin crawl. Then there were the repeated attempts to take X-rays by shoving a too-big implement into his mouth. 

The dentist meant well. Still, as a parent the scene was painful to watch. More coaxing, more failed attempts. Meanwhile my son's anxiety skyrocketed. We left, frustrated (me) and in floods of tears (him).

There has to be a better way, I thought, and set out to find it. After all, I know my son can't be the only kid out there who's terrified about visiting the dentist. Even some children without special needs share his paralyzing fear of being asked to "open up wide and say ahhh." 

In my quest to help him, I learned some interesting tidbits. First off, it's not only that overbite that runs in the family. A study published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry found that family members - particularly fathers - tend to pass on their dental anxiety to other members. 

Well, that explains a lot. While I don't look regard my regular cleaning as a special treat, I don't dread it the way my husband does. 

And Hubby should be a cautionary tale. Decades of fear and avoidance translated into 13 cavities. That was on his first visit alone, which must have shattered some kind of record!

I don't want my son to live through the same horrors. These are five key pointers to make the trip to the dentist if not fun, then at least grin and bearable: 

Start young

As in, before your child's first birthday, with a 'practice' visit where no actual cleaning or examining happens. It's basically just your child getting acquainted with that person in the white coat and all their funny accouterments. If your child is still young, you can also 'play dentist' at home using stuffed animals as patients. At least they don't talk back.
 

Zip your lip

If your child needs a procedure, give only basic details. Whatever you do, don't share your own past experiences. Even if you mean well, it will only get their anxiety up. 
 

Use positive language

Think healthy happy teeth, goodbye sugar bugs. Steer clear of words like "pain" or "hurt" even if used in negative context, e.g. "it won't hurt..." Emphasize the importance of keeping chompers healthy for life.
 

Go pediatric or go home

This is the mistake I initially made. By opting for convenience, I went with my own dentist. She's fine for me. But pediatric dentists are used to working with kids who are nervous or who have special needs like my boy. They know how to explain things in a way that kids can relate to. Plus, their offices don't look sterile like the adult kind; they're are geared up to look like arcades, with video games, tv and toys. Actually, I wish I could visit the pediatric dentist too and watch Netflix while I'm swishing fluoride...
 

Avoid bribery

It goes without saying that offering sweets or candy to your child as a reward for good behaviour in the chair kind of defeats the purpose. Even promises of toys can backfire because message sent is that seeing the dentist is some nasty event to be survived or at best, endured. Feel free to use praise and encouragement, though. Leave the rest to the expert in the white jacket.
 

IMAGE SOURCE: HALFPOINT VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

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