Many of the young children I see are coming to the dentist for the first time. They have no experience of dentistry yet they are often fearful. Why?
I believe that children pick up both verbal and non-verbal messages from parents, siblings, friends, and even TV shows that make fun of how scary a dental visit is or how badly a root canal hurts.
Some dental procedures do hurt and people who have been hurt often become afraid to try it again. Nevertheless, the vast majority of dental visits are nearly painless and cleanings and examinations are especially easy.
What can you do to help your child enjoy their dental visit? Mostly you can project a positive attitude yourself. If you expect your child to have fun, they will be more likely to sense your attitude and reflect it back to you.
Giving kids too much information is generally not a great idea. A few parents have told me that they want to give their kids a step by step description of what will happen so that they will be prepared. Unfortunately, this description by a parent is colored by that parents expectations and own experiences, which are frequently not what will happen for their child.
Pediatric dentists are most successful when they are able to communicate with their patients. The words we use are carefully selected after years of experience working with children to get the best response from young kids.
As an example, going to the zoo for the first time could be a frightening experience if described like this: “When you go to the zoo, you have to wait in a long line to pay money, then they make you go through a steel gate that is like a cage that only turns one direction and could get stuck with you in it. Once you are inside, there are huge animals that have sharp teeth and long claws that are kept behind a fence or a moat. Once a kid climbed into their cage and was killed!” … You get the idea.
I would be more likely to describe a shot to a kid like this: “I am going to push my little cotton tipped stick against your gums. It has some funny taste that I will wash away as soon as I can. Please hold your breath for a second, like you are swimming. There, you are done.” I describe what it will feel and taste like, I distract them with breath holding and I keep talking to them until it is done.
Many of my patients go years without knowing that they have ever had a shot!
I am reminded of the power of language whenever I have a kid that does not speak English, Spanish, Farsi, or Vietamese (the languages we speak here). Those children who do not understand me are still helped by my voice tone and non-verbal communication, but I am still at a disadvantage.
Help your child get a lifetime of comfortable and fear-free dental care by letting an expert talk them through it!
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Specializing in dentistry for infants, children, adolescents and special needs patients