A dentist office is a scary place for adults. It’s no surprise that it’s a scary place for kids too. Managing dental anxiety in children requires preparation before their appointment. Encouraging them to develop the habit of seeing a dentist helps too.
Anxiety over visiting a dentist develops for many reasons. The more painful the procedure, the more apprehension over returning occurs.
Dental anxiety exists for fear of needles, injection, and anesthesia. If the anxiety progresses too far, it can lead to loss of control or panic while in the dentist’s chair.
Some children experience embarrassment for being afraid. Helping children learn that the dentist is their teeth’ friend allows them to lose their anxiety. It also leads to lifelong oral health habits that prevent them from experiencing the loss of teeth, root canals, and dental surgery.
Here we cover seven ways to manage dental anxiety in children.
1. Visit the Dentist as Young as Possible
It’s best for a child’s first dental visit to take place as young as possible. Ultimately, it depends on the dentist in your area. Some recommend taking a child for their first appointment at 12 months old. Others recommend waiting until the age of three.
The younger a child visits the dentist, the sooner it becomes a habit. Plus, the fewer dental problems they’ll have. With fewer teeth to clean, the appointment moves more quickly. A dentist requires fewer tools too.
It’s best for children to learn to care for their teeth at a young age. If they understand that the depth of the visit depends on their brushing habits, it encourages them to keep it up.
2. Visit a Pediatric Dentist
Some dentists ask parents to wait to schedule an appointment for their children because they don’t focus on pediatric dentistry. Therefore, find a local pediatric dentist in your area and book the first appointment there.
The environment is kid-friendly, and the tools fit inside tinier mouths more comfortably.
It’s a good way to introduce them to the dentistry world. The staff receives training in working with children experiencing dental anxiety too.
3. Visit the Same Dentist
Children need consistency. Repetition benefits their development, learning, and connections to the brain.
If they have a good experience at the local pediatric dentist’s office, stick with it. The hope is that the trend will continue. Seeing the same dentist builds trust between the child and dental professionals.
Ideally, they’ll continue to have the same positive experience into their adolescent years when it’s time to switch to a family dentist.
4. Schedule Timely Appointments
Several factors impact a child’s mood, especially when they’re toddlers. Since they don’t know how to fully express themselves, they throw tantrums, cry, or become aggressive. Children also don’t have the freedom to make choices. Thus, they can’t control their lives.
You know your child best. If they’re agreeable in the morning, schedule the appointment first thing. If the child is at their best in the afternoon, schedule the appointment accordingly.
Sometimes you can’t help the appointment time given to you. You can ensure your child receives enough rest the night before. JS Dental Lab provides a helpful bedtime checklist to check out here.
5. Become their Dental Role Model
Children mimic what they see. If they see you caring for your teeth, they’re more likely to care for theirs too. If they see you calmly attending your dental appointment, they’re more likely to remain calm on the way to theirs.
Parents help their children become adults. It’s easier to ask them to practice good oral hygiene if they have a role model at home.
6. Use Positive Reinforcement
When your child brushes their teeth without being reminded, express your pride in their accomplishment.
Show positive reinforcement by clapping, cheering, or hi-fiving. Offer a pat on the back, hug, or thumbs up.
7. Talk about the Dentist with the Child
Parents who need help talking with their children about any topic can find a book that addresses it. In 2021, videos and online tutorials also exist.
If you notice that your child shows signs of dental anxiety, talk with them about the dentist. Incorporate any resources that help you add value to the conversation.
For example, discuss what’s appropriate while at the dentist’s office. Most dental staff members request permission from the patient before taking X-rays or inserting teeth cleaning tools in their mouth.
Preparing the child for the process helps them calm down.
Sometimes a dentist has to use their tools. A deep cavity, possible periodontal disease, or decaying tooth require unpleasant dental procedures. The good news is that these oral conditions are preventable.
Managing dental anxiety in children starts with putting them on the path toward solid oral health habits early. Become their dental role model to make the habit more easily attainable. Let them pick out their toothbrushes and toothpaste so they’re a part of their dental decisions.