How to make your fearful child's dental visit more enjoyable
Dr Keisha Smith-Pagan, DDS
Few things evoke more fear in routine health care than the dental visit. Lying flat on the chair, the strange sounds and the different instruments going in and out of your mouth can be unnerving. This experience is no more tolerable for children than it is for adults. However, because the health of the teeth and overall oral cavity is so important, we must prepare our kids to have an enjoyable time at their dental visits.
Some quick and easy tips for parents:
1. The mainstay of preparing your child for the dentist surrounds the behaviour management tool of 'tell-show-do'. This entails telling the child some part of what is to happen with few details, showing the child some part of the process, e.g., a book or video, then having the child experience it.
For instance, the parents can casually say, "We are going to see the dentist. He/she is going to check your teeth to make sure they are clean and healthy so that you can have a beautiful smile and chew your food properly."
The parents should never attempt to explain exactly how the dentist will do this.
There are many online resources e.g. books and videos on YouTube showing dental visits for kids. However, if you choose to use these, ensure they are age-appropriate and that you screen the video ahead of showing your child.
2. Parents should always be careful to avoid words like 'hurt', 'shot', 'injection', 'pain', 'needle' and frightening threats like "the dentist is going to pull out your teeth". Certainly, the child will associate the visit with something significantly traumatic.
3. Always stress the importance of healthy teeth at home with
regular brushing and flossing times. Highlight the dentist's role in maintaining a healthy mouth. Allow your child to visit the dentist regularly form a young age.
4. Avoid relating your own dental experiences to your child. You may unknowingly confer your own reservations and fears in your tone and facial expression
5. Do not bribe your child to behave well at the dentist. Promises of rewards for a particular behaviour increase the child's apprehension as they infer that they have to endure some uncomfortable task first.
If your child has a fear of visiting the dentist, find a dental home that can provide a positive experience.
Dr Keisha Smith-Pagan lectures at the University of the West Indies, Mona Dentistry Programme and is in private practice at Jamaica Cosmetic Dental Services.