Popular culture has for decades depicted the dentist’s office as a scary place — the scene in “Little Shop of Horrors” in which Steve Martin is depicted as a sadistic madman springs immediately to mind — so it’s little wonder so many adults harbor an irrational fear of visiting the dentist. For small children, this can be much worse yet, as they are unaccustomed to visiting strange places for the purpose of letting uniformed adults place them in such a vulnerable and potentially invasive position.
Here are some tips that may assist you in helping your child get over his or her fear of attending regular checkups at your local pediatric dentistry clinic.
As is the case so much of the time with children, a little briefing to set expectations goes a long way toward easing into new situations, even those that are met with initial trepidation. When you schedule your child’s appointment with the dentist, tell them you have done so and let them know when it is going to take place. For young children, predictability goes a long way toward maintaining their comfort zone. Remind them as the date comes closer, so it doesn’t sneak up on them and stoke anxiety at the last minute.
If your child has questions or admits to being frightened, ask them to share their feelings and listen carefully. Try to answer honestly but simply; it is best to leave more nuanced responses to the professionals at your pediatric dentistry clinic, as they have been trained to explain things to young people in explicitly disarming terms. Likewise, if your child tells you he or she is frightened of going to the dentist’s office, be sure to let your dentist know as well. This will help them better understand how to best comfort your child during the office visit.
Also keep in mind that any stories you may tell a child about your own experiences with dentists are likely to stick in their minds — for better or worse. So do feel free to share positive memories, but refrain from associating the dentist’s office with pain, suffering and fear!
At the Clinic
Does your child have a favored stuffed animal or other small toy? Bring it along for the appointment. Anything that provides a modicum of familiarity and comfort will be helpful. Your pediatric dentist has an office tailored to ease the anxiety of children, and your child should be allowed to play at ease in the waiting room. Stay calm yourself, too, even if your child begins to act out; tantrums are only inflamed when parents respond in a tone of aggravation.
When called back to the examination area, your pediatric dentist will know to speak gently and in simple language in order to best calm nervous children. Building a relationship of trust with your dentist starting at any early age will help alleviate your child’s nervousness with each successive visit.
Sedation (Laughing Gas)
For children who are still anxious when visiting a pediatric dentist, especially if they require a procedure more complicated than a simple checkup, parents may wish to inquire about the use of nitrous oxide. This harmless gas reduces anxiety during the visit and its aftereffects wear off within a day. Children are still able to hear and respond to those around them, and many do not even remember what happened while they were under the influence of the gas.
For the children whose anxiety toward dental visits cannot be ameliorated, it may be advisable to seek counseling from a licensed child or family counselor. There are numerous forms of psychotherapy that may help your child get over their paralyzing fear.
Whatever you do, always make sure your child receives proper dental care, regardless of his or her fears. Oral health is an important factor in overall health and it is important that you don’t allow the inconvenience and annoyance you might feel at dealing with your child’s phobia to get in the way of taking care of their needs.