Most dental visits are easy and painless nowadays, but scary stereotypes about the dentist persist. For kids who pick up on these stereotypes, fear of dental visits could lead to poor oral health well into adulthood.
Talking with your child about their fears and hesitations about visiting the dentist and working to address their concerns is an important part of parenting. Here are some tips that will help you get your kids accustomed to visiting the dentist for their regular checkup.
Start Early: It’s absolutely essential for your kids to get their teeth checked by a dentist at least once a year. To get them used to the routine of the dentist’s office, start when they’re very young. Dental experts advise bringing in your 1-year old as soon as their first teeth become visible. This helps kids feel at home when visiting the dentist, and make them associate the visits with good dental care throughout their lives.
Simplify: Keep it simple when explaining to your child where you’re about to take them and why. Don’t bother with too many details, as they will only lead to more questions and trepidation. Try to stick to the essentials and gradually ease them into the visit. Also, make sure you don’t promise them there won’t be any pain, since they may lose faith in both you and the dentist if this turns out to not be the case and they need a procedure.
Be Positive: Never use words such as “pain,” “shot” or “hurt” when describing what the dentist visit is about. It’s best to let the staff pick the most appropriate words to explain to the kids what’s happening and what they’re doing. Good pediatric dentists and hygienists are well equipped to put your child at ease about having these instruments check their mouths and scratch out so called “sugar-bugs,” or count their teeth to make sure their smiles are OK.
Prepare Through Play: Help your child get used to the initial visit by arranging a pretend visit with them before the actual day. A toothbrush is the only tool you’ll need so that you and your child can pretend to be the dentist. Don’t make any drilling sounds or painful expressions during these pretend visits. Let the kids feel relaxed about the whole thing. Make the game enjoyable for them and they’ll be more willing to follow you for their first visit.
There are also plenty of books and videos that teach kids about dental visits in a positive and appropriate way. Basically, the idea is to get kids as familiar as possible with the idea of the dentist so that they know exactly what to expect and nothing is a scary surprise.
Don’t Take Them Along to Your Visit: Taking your child along with you for your own dental appointment might seem like a good way to help them relate, but it’s not. Adult dentist offices are different from pediatric ones. And if you have any anxiety or fear about going to the dentist, they may pick up on this.
Avoid Bribing: A lot of parents bribe their kids with treats or candy after an appointment if they promise not to create a fuss, but this might backfire, making your child wonder what makes a visit so terrible that you must resort to this sort of bribery.
Explain the Need: It’s crucial that you thoroughly explain the need to visit the dentist regularly and teach your kids to take care of their teeth, so that their dental checkups are straightforward and they don’t have cavities to fill. Encourage your kids to adopt great oral care habits and they’ll be spared the suffering a lot of their less-careful friends may be recounting at school.
Dental technology has advanced a great deal since you were a kid, so there’s no need for your children to be afraid of a dental visit. Use these tips and find a great dentist who works well with kids and you’ll be on the right path to instilling good dental habits in your kids for a lifetime.
Kenneth Mak, DDS, practices general and cosmetic dentistry at MKD Dentistry in Downtown Los Angeles. To learn more, visit www.MkdDentistry.com.