Children & The Dentist

Posted .

Is your child afraid of the dentist? For most children, their first visit to the dentist (and sometimes the next 50) are scary events.  If you have a child that is afraid of going to the dentist here are a few ideas to make the trip a little more pleasant.

1)      Talk with your kids about the dental visit four weeks in advance.  This may seem a little aggressive, but children have short attention spans and they tend to remember two categories of things: what they like and what they hate. If they’ve had a bad experience at the dentist that experience is always fresh in their mind.  That’s a challenging obstacle to overcome. One of the best ways to overcome this anxiety is to talk with your children about their feelings. Ask them if the feeling they have is fear or just uneasiness? Ask them about how the staff treated them. Ask them if they’ve heard anything from their friends about what happens at the dentist. Don’t judge their response, just take it all in. For a lot of children, the experience of expressing their concerns is enough to ease most of the tension involved in the trip.

2)      Watch an educational video about going to the dentist.
The Internet is full of wonderful information that can educate children about going to the dentist. The last time we checked, there were about 160,000 videos on that dealt with going to the dentist. We haven’t watched all of them, but many are cute and informative. The best way to talk to kids about going to the dentist is on their own level and sometimes a video can make them feel at ease; especially those funny ones! 

3)      Partner the trip to the dentist with a trip somewhere fun.
Kids love rewards and they are much more willing to do undesirable activity if they know there is something in it for them. One of the bigger mistakes we see is parents rewarding children with toys after going to the dentist. Our experience shows that kids are more pleased with quality time spent with a parent after going to the dentist than they are with receiving the newest transformer or stuffed animal. Is this additional time away from your day? Yes. Could this mean more time that they are out of school? Yes. But spending time with your child after a traumatic experience, even if it’s just the dental office, is priceless.

4)      Get them involved.
One of the best techniques I’ve ever seen is from one of my dental peers who runs a pediatric dental office. Using little figures, videos, and a question-and-answer session, this dentist spends a fair amount of time educating and engaging children throughout the entire visit. They go from being a passive patient to an engaged participant. She asks them questions about brushing teeth. Shows them pictures and videos about what she is about to do. She lets them handle oversized teeth so they can get an idea about a body part that is so important yet they rarely see. All of this is stuff you can do at home before the visit.

Going to the dentist does not have to be a traumatic experience. But let’s not be naïve about the situation; some kids just hate going to the dentist.   No matter what you offer or what we do, it’s going to be a difficult 30 to 45 minutes.  Having worked with kids and parents, we see lots of anecdotal evidence that these four ideas can make a significant difference in the overall experience.