As a dentist, I’ve gotten used to people not wanting to spend time with me. The prospect of someone rooting around in your mouth, using a drill, or administering a shot is unpleasant—and I understand why many feel anxious. Instead of taking it personally, I use the opportunity to help my patients learn to cope with dental visits through compassionate care, techniques to increase comfort, and a bit of fun.
If your child gets nervous around the dentist or you want to spare them whitecoat fear, here are my top tips for making their next check-up easier.
1. Introduce dental care early
Not only does starting dental care young help children get accustomed to the process, it helps them build a relationship with their dentist, hygienist, and office staff. It also helps me and my staff play a larger role in their lifelong dental health. Getting children on board with great dental hygiene means fewer cavities and complications in the future—and checking in regularly helps us detect any potential problems early on.
Dental visits can start as early as a child’s first year, though I like to start seeing my next generation of patients around the age of 3 when most teeth have come in. It may seem silly toting your toddler to an exam of baby teeth, but you’ll thank yourself down the line when a trip to the dentist doesn’t cause a meltdown.
2. Prioritize familiarity
I often have kids come in for a visit before their first real appointment to see the office, hear the sounds, meet staff, and even spin around in a few chairs (you have to test for durability!). Getting used to the environment can make check-up day considerably smoother.
Your child may also feel more comfortable if they bring along a personal item to appointments, such as a cozy blanket or treasured stuffed animal.
Consistency is also key. Request the same hygienist and exam room for visits, make appointments around the same time of day, and introduce a positive “tradition,” like having a game or movie night or visiting a favorite shop after every dental visit.
3. Discuss benefits of good dental hygiene
Young kids may not understand why at-home dental care and biannual exams are necessary—which means there likely isn’t much motivation to stick with their daily routine or visit the dentist.
Try emphasizing how great it is to have a mouth full of healthy teeth—and remind them that their dentist’s entire job is to help keep those teeth happy. Here are a few examples:
Keeping your teeth strong and healthy means you can chomp all your favorite foods.
Brushing and flossing help keep breath fresh.
You’ll be able to show off a bright smile.
You get a goody bag from the dentist after each visit.
While it’s great to talk about how regular visits to the dentist can help them have a healthy smile, try to avoid using fear-based warnings about scary dental issues, teeth falling out, or disease. Bringing up bad things that may happen—even though you are giving them a way to avoid them—may cause your child to focus on, and react to, the negative.
4. Be open, honest, and intentional
Anything unknown can be scary, particularly if there is a threat of discomfort. It’s important to walk your child through the process so there are no surprises come exam day—and it’s equally essential to avoid making promises you can’t keep. Though you may want to ease their fears, telling them it’ll only take a few minutes or that it won’t hurt can lead to distrust if any of the statements prove false.
Explain what will happen during the appointment, avoiding words like pain, shot, and hurt, which are a surefire way to make children feel anxious. Need help with what to say? Ask your dentist for suggestions on how to be honest about the experience without causing undue stress.
5. Find a dental “home”
Everyone should feel safe and comfortable with their healthcare providers—and it’s particularly important for your child to feel at ease with their dentist. When all is well, they’ll only interact every six months or so, but having a friendly relationship with the dentist will make a world of difference.
Many dentists are happy to work with children and adults who have anxiety about their visit. If you’re looking for a family dentist in the Alpharetta area, I encourage you to contact my office to set up a meet & greet or visit www.northatlantasmiles.com to learn more. We’d love to help your child learn that us dentists aren’t so bad after all!