According to the American Dental Association, between 40 and 50 million people a year in the U.S. avoid going to the dentist because they suffer from dental anxiety. Even though brushing and flossing daily takes care of most of your oral health needs, scheduling regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist can help to reduce the buildup of plaque, a harmful bacteria that contributes to gum disease and tooth decay. Checkups also provide your dentist a chance to examine your mouth for any early signs of tooth decay, and to perform routine oral cancer screenings.
Like most phobias, learning to fear the dentist doesn’t happen overnight, and can usually be traced back to a traumatic dental experience during childhood. Children who grow up fearing the dentist often become adults who suffer from dental anxiety. To help your child become comfortable with visiting the dentist, it’s important you establish at an early age that visiting the dentist shouldn’t be the cause of any concern.
Here are a few tips on how you can keep your child from developing dental anxiety, and become comfortable with visiting the dentist’s office.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents schedule a child’s first visit with a dentist shortly after her first tooth appears, or by the time she turns one. Scheduling appointments for your child to visit the dentist at a young age can have two major benefits.
First, by taking your child to the dentist at a young age you acclimated him to visiting the dentist’s office. If your child always remembers visiting the dentist, then it won’t seem as intimidating the next time then if you waited for him to get older.
Secondly, by having your child visit the dentist at a young age, you can help to ensure they don’t develop any serious oral health problems that may require a potentially frightening procedure to correct. If your child’s first visit results in him needing to have a cavity filled or gums cleaned, he’s more likely to view the dentist with fear and suspicion the next time he goes back.
Don’t Try to Relate
Parents frequently try to help their child overcome fears about visiting the dentist by relating their own fears about a dental visit. While you might think that you’re offering support by telling your child that it’s okay to be afraid, you’re actually just helping to reinforce your child’s fear.
Kids look up to their parents and learn by the example they set. Telling a child that visiting the dentist scares even mommy or daddy is like saying the monster that lives under their bed would keep you up at night as well. Good luck getting them to sleep after that, and good luck getting your child comfortable with visiting the dentist once you confirm your own fears.
Don’t Make Promises
Promising that a trip to the dentist won’t hurt is another common comforting technique parents mistakenly employ with their children. If the dentist discovers your child needs to have a cavity filled during his appointment, you’re going to have a hard time delivering on your promise of a pain free visit. This will cause your child to question anything you have to say about his next visit to the dentist, and will only increase his fears about the dentist.
Offering your child a bribe dependant on his good behavior while at the dentist’s office can also reinforce a belief that the dentist should be feared. Telling your child that if he’s real brave while at the dentist, you’ll stop for ice cream on the way home can cause him to wonder what he has to be afraid of to begin with. You also send mixed messages to your child by promising them a sweet treat immediately following a dental visit that probably included a lecture from your dentist about the importance of avoiding too many sweets.
A more successful technique is to compliment your child on his behavior after a visit, and taking him to the park or out for a healthy treat afterwards as a reward.
Timothy Lemke blogs about oral health topics for pediatric dentist Jason Peacock, a dentist in Olympia, WA at Smiles Dental.