As a parent, you know visits to the dentist are important for good oral health. That might be hard for kids to understand – in a weird office with a stranger standing over them and unfamiliar noises from every direction. Dental fears can lead to a delay in treatment and eventually poor oral health.
Here are ways to help if your child says, “I’m scared of the dentist!”
Your child should meet the dentist within 6 months of getting their first tooth or by their first birthday. Starting early shows kids that dental visits are important to help them keep their best smile. These visits also make your child more comfortable with the dental office when they come back for regular checkups as they get older.
It might be easiest to go to the family provider, but finding a pediatric dentist for your child may be a better option. After dental school, pediatric dentists take special training to make them experts at treating kids, including young patients that say, “I’m scared of the dentist.”
It may be tempting to say, “It won’t hurt” or “It won’t be scary,” but those statements can be cues they might need watch out for something. Instead, calmly explain what they can expect during the appointment.
Explain that the dental team will use special instruments to make sure their teeth are clean and healthy, and things might get loud sometimes.
Remember to be positive. You can tell your child that you visited the dentist, too, as a kid, but leave out the “war stories” that mention any negative experiences. You can pass along your own fears of the dentist to your kids.
Don’t get mad or feel embarrassed by your child’s anxiety. Consider going into the exam room with your child, especially with younger kids. Holding their hand or allowing them to sit on your lap during the exam can give them the comfort they need. If your child clams up or gets shy when the hygienist starts asking questions, they may need your help to answer. But know that forcing them through the appointment by pinning their arms down, yelling or making threats will make the experience worse.
Early visits and help getting through their fear will make sure your child continues healthy habits – like visiting the dentist – for life.