“You have a dentist appointment tomorrow.” These simple words often have a dramatic effect on the person to whom they are spoken. Many adults, not just children, have a fear of visiting the dentist and just hearing the word brings worry to their hearts. It is our goal as pediatric dentists to work to eliminate this fear in children before it has a chance to grow through the years and become an irrational, uncontrolled emotion in adults.
People often ask “How do you do it?” when inquiring about caring for a frightened child. Most often the answer is simple: TLC. The environment in our office is geared toward children. We specialize in taking care of children’s dental needs, not just completing any necessary treatment or routine cleaning visits but also attempting to set them up for a lifetime of a positive attitude concerning dentists and dental visits. We want kids leaving our office happy and wanting to return, but prizes and video games help as well. The ultimate goal is to have them feeling that way when they are 20, 40 and beyond. The bigger question is: How can we help with this at home?
First, try not to express to your child any fear that you may have of the dentist. We see children all the time that are afraid merely because a parent is afraid and has spoken with them or perhaps nonverbally demonstrated it to them. It may be difficult for you, but try to restrain yourself. If your child has an approaching visit to the dentist, explain that the people in the office are helpers. They are people that care about the child and help them to stay healthy. Help the child understand that having healthy teeth is part of having a healthy body.
The dentist doesn’t work alone either — there is a team of people with the dentist that help the child. There may be dental assistants and there may be dental hygienists, special people that help clean the child’s teeth. Depending on what your child is going to have done, explain things in a positive light using kid-friendly language. If they will have cavities filled, talk about sleepy jelly and sleepy juice to put the bugs to sleep. You can speak about a tickle brush that the dentist will use to clean out the cavity bugs and a filling to make the tooth better.
Do not talk about shots and drills. Children hear these words and often associate them with vaccinations, usually an unpleasant experience. If your child is having a routine cleaning, talk about the tooth mirror and counter. You can demonstrate by counting their fingers. We count teeth the same way as we count fingers.
If you have any questions or concerns about how to best prepare your child for a visit, we welcome your inquiries. The bottom line is simple — try to build up the dentist as a good person. We’ll do the rest.