Bedtime routines with your children, like brushing teeth, can sometimes be like pulling teeth. But you know that dental hygiene is a priority, so you make it work. You may play little games, set a timer, and use other little tricks to getting your children to form good habits early.
However, one oral health aspect many parents struggle with is the dental office visit. It could be because children get nervous to see the medical equipment, feel uncomfortable with foreign objects poking at their teeth and gums, or are afraid that routine procedures may hurt. Whatever the case, you need a way to make them feel more comfortable, but how?
Avoid Negative Associations
As most parents know all too well, children will repeat things they hear at home. They seem to take particular relish in innocently parroting naughty words or family secrets. Therefore, if you are uncomfortable during your own visits to the dentist, try not to vocalize those concerns in front of your children. Instead, take steps to make your experience better so your children can do the same.
In addition to a positive general attitude about the dentist office, make sure to use positive words when talking about visits. For example, if you say something “might hurt” or mention children “probably won’t like it,” you child may fear the dentist office. In general, these are self-fulfilling prophesies, so avoid them at all costs.
Discuss Your Positive Experiences
Just because you focus on the positive does not mean you can’t be realistic with your children. Some procedures may feel uncomfortable, and you can certainly tell them this. In fact, you probably should since it will prepare them for that eventuality.
The happy medium rests in how you share that information. For example, let’s say you had a root canal a few years ago, and you want to share that experience with your child. In theory, that’s no problem. But if you focus on the fact that you had to sit in the dentist chair for hours or took days to recover from the procedure, the story may cause children anxiety.
Instead, use the same root canal story, but focus on how your tooth hurt before your visit to the dentist. Then, after the procedure and recovery time, it didn’t hurt anymore. This will show that the dentist is there to relieve pain, not cause it. Or, simply tell children how great your teeth feel after routine cleanings. Whatever the story, make sure the focus is on the positive outcome – not necessarily the procedure.
Play Dentist at Home
Many children dislike the dentist office because they are unfamiliar with it. To familiarize them with visits, encourage your children’s learning through play time and pretend you have a dentist office at home.
Encourage your children to use their imagination and pretend to visit the “dentist office” in your living room. During the first game, consider playing the dentist yourself. That way, you can see your “patients” and show them how a dentist will act. Make sure to compliment them on their fantastic brushing technique, beautiful gums, and sparkling teeth. Once they see how dentists should act, let them trade roles with you so they can examine your teeth.
In addition to imagination-based games, you can download smart phone apps to make a trip to the dentist seem fun. Try Apple’s Little Dentist or Android’s Crazy Dentist for your device. Colgate also offers a variety of computer games that children between 2 and 9 might enjoy here.
Young children may also enjoy Play-Doh’s Doctor Drill ’n Fill playset. Children mould teeth and take care of them with an imitation drill, mirror, braces, and tweezers. Use playtime to explain how dentists use each tool to keep our mouths healthy. That way, children will understand the purpose of equipment before they even enter the dental office.
Bring Quiet Activity Toys to the Waiting Room
One of the places that is the most nerve-wracking for children is the waiting room. They not only have to wait for their appointment time, they will likely use that time to focus on what’s about to happen, which could increase anxiety. Avoid this by bringing a fun and quiet activity to the dentist’s office.
This can be as simple as talking about unrelated things they enjoy, including their classes, friends, or what they want for dinner. If possible, include your dentist in conversations, as well. This will help make the doctor seem more approachable.
If you’d like to include structured games, try puzzles or mazes. Many dentists will have books for children, but you may also want to bring tooth-related stories with you. Try Michael Dahl’s Pony Brushes His Teeth, Lynn Swanson’s Caraboose the Tooth Fairy Moose, or Taro Gomi’s The Crocodile and the Dentist to get started.
Remember that since you know your children better than anyone, you can help them more effectively than anyone. Nerves at the dentist are completely natural, so don’t worry if your child starts to show them. Just remember these steps, and be sure to ask our helpful staff at Woodcreek Dental Care should you have any more questions.