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Have you or your child got a dental phobia? Does a visit to the dentist fill you with dread, or make your child anxious? You are not alone. Here are 10 ways to help your child not be anxious at the dentist.
10 Ways to Help Your Child Not Be Anxious At The Dentist
It is not unusual for your child to be scared of a dental visit. It can be a very strange environment, with lots of unusual smells, sounds and noises. A lot of their anxieties can be dealt with by using the following techniques.
1. Start when they are small
Get your child used to going to the dentist before their first birthday if possible. This gets them used to all the strange noises, sights and smells. Hopefully they will never need any work doing, but if they ever do, the dental office will have become a familiar place and not hold any fear by then. Find a child friendly dentist that you trust.
2. Look after their teeth
This may sound like a no-brainer, but as a parent you do need to be cleaning your child’s teeth twice a day for 2 minutes each time with toothpaste. The teeth should be brushed before bedtime and no more food/drinks after this, or you are just asking for decay.
The current guidelines are that you do this until they are aged 7. So make sure you are doing this whatever way you can.
Now, as a parent I know that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. My little girl needs to watch YouTube videos whilst we do her teeth (she is 2). Playing games may help. Or letting them brush your teeth first. Find a way that works for you. Here are some tips.
Similarly, be careful of the diet your child is having. Not too many snacks or sugar, and limit (or ban) fizzy drinks. Milk or water are the only safe drinks for your child’s teeth. No bottles or sip cups with milk or juice. No sugar on pacifiers. It may be tough, but it will be worth it in the long run.
3. Practise at home
Play ‘Dental Surgery’ at home so your child can pretend to have a dental examination before they have to do it for real. Or buy a book, watch a television programme or DVD of how the visit should go. Then your child will be able to see that it isn’t such a scary time.
4. Take something to do in case you have to wait at your appointment.
It is unfortunate, but dentists often run late for appointments. Waiting can make an anxious patient much worse. Taking something to do which is age appropriate to the child will help if there is any waiting to do.
5. If you yourself are anxious, ask someone else to take your child
Your anxious feelings of the dentist may not be helping your child, as they pick up and often reflect your behaviour. It may not be possible, but could you ask your partner or a grandparent to take your child on your behalf? Your child may find this helpful. For consent reasons though, it is best to have a parent.
6. Schedule appointments with the child on their own
Again , this may not be possible, but if you can schedule your anxious child’s appointments away from other family members it may help. The anxious child will be much better without any spectators (except yourself).
Also, scheduling an appointment when there are likely to be less children (period) in the dental surgery means that there will be less likelihood of any other dentally anxious children patients to deter your own anxious child.
After breakfast and after lunch are also great times, as the child will have had something to eat and will have some sugar in their system to offset the adrenaline rush that anxiety invariably brings. This means less chance of feeling faint.
If this is impossible and the family must all come together, it is best if the anxious child goes first. This can be explained to the child as ‘getting it over with’. But in reality it just means that the anxious child has less time to see other members of the family be treated and getting themselves worked up over it becoming their turn.
7. Don’t use emotional language to describe treatment
Never use words such as “It won’t be painful“, “this won’t hurt” or “don’t be scared” as these words just give out a negative image of the experience to a child. Instead use positive words and praise.
Phrases such as “Well Done on such clean teeth”, “I am here”, “It is going to be fine” and “You are doing brilliantly” are all positive reinforcement to an anxious child, even if they are not doing so well with the visit. Make the visit seem as fun and not scary as possible.
Never talk about your bad experiences to your child, especially whilst they are in the dental setting.
8. Don’t Offer Bribes to Your Child
It is counterproductive to offer bribes to an anxious child to get them to cooperate. It actually increases apprehension as it makes the child think that the treatment must be scary if you are having to offer a bribe to get them to do it!
Instead, give your child a non-food treat but only if they do behave well, and don’t mention it before or during the appointment, but after the appointment is over. That way, it is a positive reinforcement of a good dental trip, and the child will look forward to their next visit!
9. Do Stay Calm
If you are calm then your child will see that and follow your lead. I know you are a bag of nerves inside, but stay strong for them. Your anxiety will only make their anxiety stronger. Hold their hand and follow the lead of the dental team. They are there to do the best for your child, so trust them.
10. Do Not Be Discouraged If All Doesn’t Go To Plan
If your child just will not have something done, do not be angry, berate them (or the dental team) and definitely do not make them do it by force. This is the worst negative reinforcement, and will just make the anxiety worse. Some days it just will not happen.
Praise them for even getting this far. Praise them for trying. Reschedule the appointment for another day. And if all else fails, ask your dental team if there is another way. A referral may be the next step, or sedation.
And above all, do not be angry at yourself, as you are doing a great job!
I hope that these 10 ways to help your child not be anxious at the dentist have helped? Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below , or by getting in touch on social media.
Read here why Emma thinks that canines are the worst teeth to cut.
If you yourself have dental anxiety/phobia, have you read my post on 10 Ways to be Less Anxious At the Dentist?
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