In all fairness, no one really looks forward to the annual dental checkup, let alone to an unplanned visit, and we all know at least a few adults who reluctantly make the appointment when first signs of pain kick in. This fear sometimes comes naturally, but it can also be caused by a previous bad experience, and it’s a particularly tricky issue with kids.
For instance, our daughter was playing in the park when she slipped, fell and chipped one of her primary teeth very badly, so we needed an emergency trip to the dentist, and you can imagine how terrified she was. However, a few long-term strategies and a calm approach on the spot were enough to make the experience much more positive and help her slowly overcome her fear.
No room for panic
While it’s perfectly natural for a child to start crying when they feel pain, many parents overreact with panic and a wave of flustered questions, which only makes the child feel that there must be a good reason for fear and alarm.
That is why I came to my daughter as soon as I noticed she fell, I saw that she got up immediately, held her chin and started crying, but she wasn’t seriously injured and I instantly started calming her down with reassuring statements such as “Everything is okay, let mommy take a look. See, it’s just a tiny scratch. ” That way, the initial shock will fade and your child will feel much more capable to cope with the situation.
Since we as humans tend to fear the unknown, it’s completely expected for a child to feel anxious about a visit to an unfamiliar place, and any form of physical contact from a stranger can feel as invasion. Anything from reading stories about dentists in general, discussing your family dentist, to talking about their profession from a very positive perspective will ease your child into the idea of regular visits.
From day one, our dentist has been referred to as Mr. Stevens, or Ted, as our daughter has the special privilege of being on a first name basis with him. His job is not an abstract, mysterious notion to her, as she knows him well, and she feels comfortable asking him all sorts of questions. This is where a true professional shines, because Mr. Stevens always knows how to respond without using threatening language.
Mind your language
However, if you do invest so much time and effort into familiarizing your kids with dentists and dental health, you’ll need to stay consistent as far as your words are concerned in these critical situations. Brief explanations based on positive and neutral language will help you cover the essence, maintain your child’s trust and avoid causing fear and anxiety.
Words such as “pain” or “shot” will scare even the mighty Hulks among grownups, let alone a child with a toothache. Our family endodontist solved this marvelously during our infamous chipped tooth incident, as he was very patient, calm and supportive during the whole procedure. All it takes is a reassuring smile and a few words of encouragement and your child will feel much better.
In addition to regular visits and a positive, accepting attitude, if you practice what you preach, your child will likely respond much better to your consistent behavior than your words alone. While some kids will enjoy the stories and the books, if your kid prefers a more hands-on experience, then you can create a puppet show, or roleplay and pretend to have occasional visits to the dentist.
And if your kid is still uneasy once you arrive to your appointment, you can always offer to sit in the chair first and show them that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. And while that familiar sterile smell, piercing light and all the equipment might be daunting, a positive atmosphere can make all the difference. If your family dentist can make a few adjustments to add colors, cartoons and make it more comfortable, then even better!
Even the most timid children find their way around their early fears, and their dental anxiety doesn’t have to be an exception. With a few helpful strategies in place and a continuous positive attitude even in the most challenging situations, your family trips to the dentist can become a piece of cake!