The dentist’s chair can be a nerve-wracking place even for the most thick-skinned of adults, so it is no real surprise that young children can sometimes feel apprehensive about getting their teeth checked out. As their parent, you are in a great position to dispel any fears around what a trip to the dentists might entail.
Don’t pass on your hang-ups
Even if you are petrified about the tool-wielding man or woman in the white mask, it is really important that you don’t let your child get wind of your anxiety. The best and most basic way of helping to build a positive experience for your child is to let them see you expressing positive thoughts and recollections about trips to the dentist. Even if you have to fake it…
Leaving the first dental visit until an age where your child is wise to what’s going on means it will likely get built up into a much bigger experience than it would have done if they had been going all their life. As soon as your child has sprouted their first teeth, they can start seeing a dentist. Dentistry is free for under 18s in New Zealand, as an added bonus.
Watch your language
Words you might not think twice about saying can leave a lasting impact on your child. So, when talking about the dentist, make a special effort to word your sentences as positively as you can, without telling fibs. For example, if you say, “It won’t hurt”, your child will hear the word ‘hurt’ first and foremost. This will make some children anxious, even if you were attempting to say something encouraging. Furthermore, if it does end up hurting then your child may not trust anything you say ever again! Try using simple, fun language to create realistic expectations, such as, “The dentist is just a special kind of doctor who really loves teeth, and wants to take a close look at your smile to make sure it is healthy and happy.”
Normalise the experience
A good way to prepare your child for their trip to the dentist is to go through the motions with them first. If your child loves to read with you, go to your local library or bookshop and find a children’s book about going to the dentist. There are some great kids’ reads on the market aimed at precisely that purpose. Alternatively, you could engage in some dentistry role play with your child. You play the dentist, your child plays the patient, and you can demonstrate exactly how fun and non-scary a trip to the dentist’s is. And then you can swap! Another great way to normalise the dentist ahead of your child’s visit is to take them along to see the waiting room on a different day beforehand and let them see that it’s just a nice, normal place and nothing to be scared of.
As a parent, when you want your child to do something quietly and without fuss, it can be pretty hard to resist the temptation to offer them a bribe. This is not a good idea when it comes to dentists’ visits, however. If your child is already anxious, the additional pressure of feeling that they have to be good in order to win a prized treat could end up making them even more nervous. However, there is nothing wrong with doing something nice as a surprise for your child as a little “well done” once the trip is over. A sticker, a small toy or an impromptu trip to the playground after their appointment may be just what it takes to create a positive association.