For some people, visiting the dentist is a chore; for others, it’s a nightmare. Dentists know that laying back while a stranger use metal tools into your mouth isn’t pleasant, and they will take steps to ensure you’re comfortable and feel safe. As an adult, you know this—but how do you explain that to your kids?
Children often wear their fears on their sleeves, so it should be easy to spot when they’re getting uncomfortable with the thought of going to the dentist. You also know your kids best, so you probably have a good idea how the experience will go during their first visit. The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to get your kids ready for a positive dental visit.
Here are some ways you can reduce your child’s fears of the dentist.
Take an Early Visit
Fears often come from the unknown—so bring your child along to your next visit to the dentist! Let your child see that it’s no big deal. It’s also a great time to introduce your child to the frontline staff and the dentist. Your child can start building trust with these people before having to hop into the chair. It’s also a chance to see mom or dad go through the experience and come out smiling on the other side.
Avoid Negative Language
Start talking about the dentist and oral hygiene early and make it a part of everyday life in order to normalize it for your child. The key is to avoid negative language or terrifying connotations, such as the word “drill.” Use some fun terms your kids can grasp, like “sugar bugs” instead of plaque. And whatever you do, don’t mention pain, even if all you’re saying is, “It won’t hurt.”
Play Dentist at Home
Kids learn through play, so after a visit to the dentist to watch you experience it, try making a game of it. You can take turns playing the role of the dentist and looking into the other’s mouth.
Find some toy dentist equipment you can use, or improvise with objects around the house like Popsicle sticks or straws. There are teddy bears you can buy that have teeth in their mouths, designed exactly for this kind of play. The goal is to continue getting your child comfortable with the idea of the dentist and see that it’s not as bad as they might imagine it.
Read Dentist-Positive Books
Along with play, reading books about visiting the dentist can go a long way to normalizing the experience. It can also help answer questions your children might have—or even help them develop the questions they don’t know they want to ask.
There are many great books out there on the topic of dental hygiene, so find one your kids love and get reading!
Create Space for Questions
Again, it’s the unknown that causes fear. By creating time for your kids to ask questions, you can answer and alleviate fear. This helps you get a sense of what is bothering your children about the visit, and you can find specific ways to remove those fears.
Be honest and truthful, yet careful, with your language, and stick to answering only the questions your child asks. Sometimes, it’s just one aspect of the visit causing fear, so there’s no need to give them more reasons to worry.
Your children are strong people; they just don’t know what to expect from a visit to the dentist. Find ways to explain and help them become comfortable, and your next visit to the dentist won’t involve kicking and screaming, but rather, a beaming smile.