By Dr. Jila Nikkhah, Dental Director of SOS
For some children, visiting the dentist is as anxiety-ridden as checking under the bed for monsters. But just like children can cast aside the belief that monsters camp out in bedroom shadows, they can learn to overcome their fear of dental checkups – and maybe even learn to love the positive accolades that come from cavity-free visits.
Children’s anxieties about going to the dentist aren’t without merit. After all, the environment can be intimidating, especially when imagined from their point of view. They’re asked to lie on a chair surrounded by big equipment and people, hear clicks and whooshes, and feel cold air and water in their mouths. Couple those unfamiliar experiences with the news that their baby teeth will fall out and new teeth will grow in, and dentistry can be a little daunting.
If you want to trade the tears for smiles, you can help your child prepare for the dentist. The SOS Dr. Robert & Dorothy Beauchamp Children & Family Dental Center in Newport Beach offers these tips and tricks to help your child approach dental checkups without fear.
Pick the right dentist.
Make sure your dentist has lots of experience treating children, and knows how to handle their anxieties and special needs. Getting kids to a dentist who knows how to behave with them when they’re little can help even the youngest children form positive associations with dental care – and avert painful treatments later on.
In the days leading up to a visit, spend time talking about what a dentist does. This is a great way to explain the benefits of good oral care and why visiting a dentist regularly is important. You might even ask your dentist if you can stop by with your child for a tour before his or her first exam.
Kids will pick up the meaning behind words and phrases, so watch how you explain things to them. Your children will stay upbeat about dental exams if they look forward to having “clean and white teeth.” However, if they hear you say dentists “look for cavities” or a visit “might hurt a little,” they’ll think about their upcoming trip with fear.
Make it a game.
Role playing can help your child imagine what to expect during an exam and quell anxieties. Before your tyke’s next exam, pretend to be a dentist, with your child acting as the patient. Gently tap each tooth with a toothbrush – mimicking the feeling of a dental instrument in the mouth – and count them aloud. Hold up a small mirror to show how dentists look at teeth and gums.
Nearly every form of kids’ media offers a lesson about pediatric dental care. Head over to the library and check out an illustrated children’s book depicting a child’s visit to the dentist. Or download an app for your smartphone that teaches them how to take proper care of their teeth.
Time it right.
Discuss with your dentist when the best time will be for your child to get care. If they are going to need sedation, a morning visit is better so that they won’t mind going on an empty stomach. If they are just having a checkup, a later appointment might work better.
Don’t make them go it alone.
Pediatric dentists understand that a trusted stuffed animal, well-worn blanket or superhero costume may help kids feel comfortable during an exam, so feel free to invite along any beloved companions. Or pop on earphones and let kids hear their favorite tunes while in the dentist’s chair.
Recognize their efforts.
Strive to make every encounter with the dentist a positive one. Give an upset child a sticker for bravery or let your child pick out a special toothbrush featuring a favorite character for a cavity-free visit.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends taking your child to see a pediatric dentist when the first tooth appears, usually around six months of age – and never later than his or her first birthday. Your child’s dentist will recommend a maintenance schedule for optimal oral health, usually twice a year for checkups and cleanings. And remember, pregnant women should consult a pediatric dentist as soon as possible to develop a plan for prenatal care, too.