So your child had their first dental visit and things went well…yay! Or maybe things didn’t go that well and now it’s time for their next appointment. Whether it’s for a routine check-up, cleaning or a filling, a visit to the dentist can make your child anxious. But don’t worry, there are many ways to help your child reduce their anxiety with some simple pre-visit preparation:
Tip #1 – Talk to your child about what to expect at the dentist
Children cope better when they know what to expect.
- Teach your child that visiting the dentist is normal, important and not a choice.
- Explain how the dentist takes care of your teeth.
- Use positive words when talking about the dentist.
- Teach your child that clean, strong and healthy teeth are important to eat, smile and talk.
- Visit websites, watch videos or read books together about visiting the dentist.
- Pretend-play a visit to the dentist with your child.
Tip #2 – Communicate with your dentist
A positive relationship and good communication between you and your dentist is very important.
- Talk to your dentist ahead of time without your child present. Ask what is going to happen so you can help to prepare your child.
- Discuss treatment options with your dentist, such as shorter or longer visits, morning appointments, the use of sedation, and/or a referral to a dentist who specializes in treating children.
- Talk to your dentist about your child’s temperament and any concerns that you may have about your child’s fears, behaviour or special needs.
Tip #3 – Teach and role model relaxation
- Role model a positive attitude about visiting the dentist.
- Stay calm and speak in a soothing, reassuring voice before the appointment and while at the dentist’s office.
- Help your child to relax by using deep breathing.
- If you feel it would help your child to remain calm, ask the dentist if it is possible for you to stay with your child and hold their hand through the procedure.
Tip #4 – Use distraction
- Bring along your child’s favourite toy or comfort object.
- Ask about television shows, movies or video games available at your dentist’s office. Bring your own if you can.
- Read a story to your child.
- Listen to music.
Tip #5 – Use positive reinforcement
- Keep calm and be patient with your child if they express fear. Your child needs your love and support to overcome these fears.
- Let your child know that it’s okay to cry and that if they do, the dentist will stop the procedure and will comfort them.
- It’s important that your child experiences a success at each appointment, even if it is a small one. Reward that success with positive praise and something small like a sticker.
- Talk about the positives with your child after the appointment. Ask what they enjoyed the most and what they learned at the dental appointment.
Try not to…
- express your own fears or anxieties. Kids pick up on everything – even your body language can raise their anxiety.
- over-prepare your child or make it a big deal.
- promise everything will be fine or use phrases like “don’t worry; don’t be scared; it won’t hurt too much.” This may increase their anxiety and cause your child to lose trust in both you and the dentist.
- bribe your child with special treats, e.g. “If you don’t cry, you’ll get toy.” This might make your child ask themselves “what’s so bad about the dentist that I might want to cry?”
- use threats or punishment. “If you cry, no toys for you!”
- give them sweet treats as a reward.
Parents play a very important role in their child’s oral health. Having a positive experience at the dentist lays the foundation for good oral health and a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime!
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For parenting information, or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.