How to Prepare Your Child for a Dental Visit
Do you remember your first dental visit? If so, you were likely very young, perhaps just in kindergarten and you were terrified of meeting the man behind the white surgical mask and holding those very sharp tools. For some patients, dental visits never seem to get much better, offering reoccurring feelings of anxiety and dread that can keep some people from receiving much needed oral care.
If your child is experiencing anxiety about visiting the family dentist, there are a number of approaches that you can take. You’ll want to be honest with your children too and avoid glossing over what is for them a very challenging time.
1. Talk about it. With nothing else to distract you and your child, talk with her about her fears. Listen attentively, answer her questions and respond with compassion. You know your child best and how to approach this subject.
2. Visit your dentist. Before taking your child to a dentist, make an appointment for yourself and bring your child along. Arrange with the office manager to have your child sit in with you while your teeth are being cleaned. If your dentist already works with small children, then she is well aware of your child’s fears and will welcome your child’s company.
3. Bring along books and toys. Your child may find much comfort by bringing with her a favorite toy, a story book or a coloring book while she is waiting to be seen by the dentist. Visit your library and ask the librarian about books just for children that will be visiting a dentist. Your librarian may recommend several including “Just Going to the Dentist” by Mercer Mayer, “ABC Dentist” by Harriet Ziefert, or “Dr. Kanner, Dentist with a Smile,” by Alice K. Flanagan. This last story features an actual dentist and his young patient, taking readers through every step of the dental visit.
4. Do a mock visit. Dentists often welcome patients that are looking for a new private practice. Part of that welcoming is scheduling a visit and tour of the facility with the office manager. Your child will meet the receptionist, a hygienist and your dentist. Allow your child to see the tools, the x-ray machine and sit in the “big chair” that other patients sit in. Your child’s fear may be mostly of the unknown — a mock visit can address and overcome those fears.
5. Consider sedation. For some children, no amount of reassurance or an office visit will calm their nerves. This is not unusual — come to think of it, many adults feel the same way. Talk with your dentist about sedation and how it can be used to manage behavior and relieve anxiety. There are various sedation options for your children including oral sedatives, intravenous sedation, a general anesthetic and nitrous oxide. Sedation is all about providing quality care, for minimizing disruptive behaviors and for caring for the patient — both emotionally, psychologically and medically.
6. Win this battle. Your child may seem like the challenge, but the problem is her anxiety, not the child herself. This battle you must win as your child’s oral health and perhaps greater health is at stake. Consider rewarding your child with a new toy or a stuffed animal following her successful visit. You’ll also want to schedule her next visit so that she understands that twice-yearly visits to the “friendly dentist” are expected.
Help make your child part of the dental visit by encouraging her participation. Teach her how to make an appointment and locate on a calendar when six months have passed between appointments. Show here how to care for her own teeth and what connection personal care has with dental visits.
U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Sedation of children undergoing dental treatment. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22419289
Smile Zone Pediatric Dentistry: Sedation Dentistry — http://www.smilezonekids.com/Sedation-Dentistry