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Dental health is important for everyone, including children. A visit to a dentist can be a scary and anxiety provoking experience for a child. This is true regardless of if it is a first experience or a repeat trip (particularly if prior trips did not go well). How can parents prepare their children for a dental visit?

First, be understanding of your child’s discomfort. They will be in a room they do not recognize that is full of tools and objects that are not familiar to them. Additionally, they will have a minimum of two strangers, the dentist and the dental hygienist, talking to them and examining their mouth. As adults, we can understand the concept that people have specific jobs that require specific actions. Children do not necessarily understand the concept of just doing their job so this can be a traumatizing experience.

Your Child’s First Visit

Start dental visits as soon as the first tooth is visible. While it may seem like a strange idea to take a baby to the dentist, it allows the child to begin acclimating to the dentist’s office. Regular visits to the dentist will keep the surroundings familiar and decrease anxiety during future visits. Choose a dentist that has a practice geared toward children. Your dentist may have treated children, but his or her practice may not be designed specifically for children. Children are more comfortable in a fun and friendly environment. If you need a referral, you can contact your dental insurance provider, talk to your friends that have children, or contact the American Dental Association for referrals. A dentist that specializes in working with children will be more sensitive to the needs and feelings of your child.

It is important that you help your child practice brushing their teeth. A toothbrush in the child’s mouth will help them with the experience of dental tools. Although these are baby teeth it is important to promote good dental health.

Keep a positive attitude. If you are afraid of the dentist, try not to say things that will increase the fear of your child. Words like pain and shot may feel like an honest assessment to you, but talking about the potential of those things before the appointment may just set your child up for more anxiety than they need to experience. Empathy is good, but don’t project your fear onto your child. Instead, use positive phrases that promote good oral health. Answer simple questions for your child. If you don’t know, it’s okay to say that. Encourage your child to ask the dentist questions about what they will experience. Most dentists will explain to your child how the dental equipment works.

Coping With Children’s Fears Of The Dentist

Children often experience distress from new experiences. This includes a visit to the dentist. It’s okay if your child acts fussy. This does not make you a bad parent. This does not mean your child is misbehaving. It means this is a new experience and your child isn’t sure how to cope with it. Reassuring words are the key to a successful experience. If you choose to reward your child for their behavior, do not use sweets or sodas. Instead, choose something like stickers or small toys. The dentist may offer a small reward as well.

Dental visits should be a regular part of life because oral health is so closely tied to physical health and self-esteem. Starting your child early with trips to the dentist and encouraging good dental habits at home will reassure your child that the dental experience does not have to be scary.