Believe it or not, children are not born afraid of the dentist. Dental anxiety is learned. Often times the fear of dental treatment is inadvertently taught before a child ever arrives for his or her first appointment. Here are some tips to help set your child up for a positive view of dental care and a lifetime of oral health.
· Let your child observe you or an older sibling receive dental care first. If your child sees you at ease in the dental chair he or she will be less apprehensive when it is his or her turn.
· Establishing healthy habits prevents tooth decay and helps your child avoid invasive dental care. Take control of your child’s diet. Your child eats what you feed them. Avoid sports drinks, soda and excessive amounts of juice or milk. Tap water has a safe and beneficial amount of fluoride to strengthen enamel.
· Good oral hygiene also prevents invasive dental treatment. Brushing your teeth and actually cleaning them is not always the same thing when you are six years old. Young children need an adult to brush their teeth after they do to get job done right.
· Never threaten to use dental treatment as a punishment for poor oral hygiene or diet. While this may sound self-evident, it is easy to catch yourself saying to your child, “If you don’t go brush your teeth, you are going to have to go to the dentist and have a lot of fillings,” or “If you don’t want to have a shot in your mouth, you need to quit drinking so much soda.” While well intentioned, comments like these build anxiety should your child eventually need a filling.
· Read to your child about the dentist. There are a lot of great children’s books about going to the dentist. Here are a few of my kids’ favorites:
The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Dr. De Soto by William Steig
The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss
Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer
These resources and many more are available at the public library.
· Take your children to the dental office long before they tell you they have a tooth ache. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children present for their first exam around their first birthday. In my office I recommend parents schedule their child’s first cleaning at the age of three.
· If parents are comfortable with it I recommend they remain in the waiting room while their children receive treatment. Many children are able to tackle their own anxieties better when their parents are not available to be a crutch. Sometimes you support your child best by being in the next room rather than the same room.
· Lastly, keeping open lines of communication between you, your child and your dentist is very important. Make sure you find a dental home where the staff and the dentist take the time to listen to and answer any questions you and your child may have.
Dr. Charles Boyd DMD