A trip to the dentist can be harrowing even for seasoned adults. For kids, fear of the unknown and not knowing what to expect can be downright scary. Finding a good dentist who will work with you to understand and alleviate your child’s anxiety around their visit is essential for creating lasting positive association with an otherwise stressful time. We have 10 tips that can make your child’s next dentist visit a happy and positive experience.
- Use Art to Alleviate Fear of the Unknown:
The American Art Therapy Association promotes using art as a tool for reducing anxiety. Kids get scared when they are facing something unfamiliar. Ask your child to / create with your child, a picture of them at the dentist. Sit with them and go over the drawing while making calming remarks or even silly observations about what they have depicted. This time together with you and the chance to identify/express the unknown will make them more comfortable with the visit when they do go.
- Create a Ritual Around the Visit with Something They Can Look Forward To:
Whether taking them on a calming walk in nature, or with the promise of a visit to a park or petting zoo, make sure to associate going to the dentist with something your child can look forward to. The National Association for the Education of Young Children encourages rituals and routines to help children navigate emotionally loaded moments.
- Read Dentist-Friendly Books With Your Child:
Dr. Viena Posada, DMD recommends reading books with your child centered on dentist visits. Elmo Visits the Dentist, The Berenstein Bears Visit the Dentist, and Show Me Your Smile, a Dora the Explorer story, all navigate through many fears children have of going to the Dentist.
- Set Up a Soothing Environment to Help Them Feel Safe:
Steven Goldberg, DDS stresses the importance of distraction techniques such as playing music during procedures as a means of relaxing the patient. Try to arrange with the dentist for you to bring in some music that comforts your child, ie a bedtime song or some other song they like to sing. They can remember times when they have listened to the song and felt happy.
- Teach Your Child Relaxation Techniques to Deal with Stress:
Practice relaxation exercises with your child that they can draw from when feeling scared or uncomfortable. Assistant Professor of Psychology at Case Western University, Amy Przeworski encourages parents to practice relaxation exercises with their children for use during times of deep anxiety or fear. Deep breathing, meditation, and visualizations can all provide a tool for them to ease through their fears.
- Ask Your Dentist to Play Show and Tell:
Every kid has participated in Show and Tell at school. Ask your dentist to show and identify each tool they are going to use and talk about how it will sound and what to expect before each one is used. Ray L. Pollock, D.D.S., tells of the importance of the “Tell-Show-Do” method which involves telling the child about the procedure, explaining each step in simple terminology and using familiar associations like counting, which helps calm the child.
- Laughter is the Best Medicine:
Prepare your child with stories or jokes about going to the dentist to lessen anxiety. You can tell a fun story about your own first visit, or talk about how the dentist has to look in all these kids mouths all day and can probably tell what they ate for breakfast!
- Remain Calm:
Kids look to you for reassurance and support, so try to remain calm around them while at the dentist or when talking about it. If you have dental anxiety, ask your partner to go in with them or do your best to maintain composure. The less it affects you, the more reassured they will be. Steven Goldberg, DDS reminds parents not to project their own dental fears onto their children.
- Use Child-Friendly Terminology to Make Your Child Smile:
If you talk to your child about the process with easy to understand language, they will be more invested in keeping their teeth healthy and happy. “Giving teeth a shower,” and “washing off sugar bugs”, are two examples of child friendly terms says Rhea Haugseth, D.M.D, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
- Keep it Silly:
Bring some silly glasses or your childʼs favorite cape and let them wear it during the visit. This can arm them with courage and it is fun! Making a trip to the dentist a fun experience will likely transform into a positive visit.