As early as six months old, your child’s baby teeth can begin to cut through the gums that by the age of three, a full set of 20 primary teeth have already appeared.
With the emergence of your kid’s teeth comes the responsibility to ensure that the health of your little one’s teeth is at its best especially since baby teeth play a vital role in the development of the permanent teeth.
Although basic oral care such as brushing is imperative, a visit to the dentist remains a necessity when it comes to oral health. Through a dental appointment, dental issues like cavities can be detected early and resolved as soon as possible.
But, coming to the dentist is often nerve-wracking for most people. According to the American Dental Association, 22 percent of Americans who did not visit the dentist in the past year has cited being afraid of the dentist as the reason.
Moreover, in an article published on colgate.com and reviewed by the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, nine to 15 percent of Americans avoid seeing the dentist due to anxiety and fear.
And if we, adults, are already cowering in fear when it comes to dental visits, what more will children be feeling about them?
In a review of literature published between 1982 and 2006 by Swedish psychologist Anders Broberg and professor Gunilla Klingberg, it was revealed that the prevalence of dental fear and anxiety among children ages four to 18 years old is at six to 19 percent with a mean prevalence of ten percent.
If your child is part of the population scared of going to the dentist, here some helpful tips you can do to help your child prep for his or her first dental checkup.
- Be Calm
Going to the dentist is something unfamiliar and new to your kid. As parents, you must be feeling equally anxious about taking him or her to a foreign place that is equipped with scary-looking machines and instruments and with total strangers.
However, make sure to keep your calm. Children go to their parents or guardians for signs about the new situation they are in, and they can sense the apprehension, making them guarded that there is something to be scared about the new situation and area.
- Be Mindful Of The Words You Use
Do not tell your kid to “not be afraid” or that “It’s going to be alright.” Using these words will do him or her more harm than good. Your child will begin to think there is something about the dental visit that should be afraid of or be wary about.
Use child-friendly terms to describe the procedure he or she is going to have like “sugar bugs” for cavities. It will also be best to compose your speech with positive vocabulary such as “strong,” “healthy,” and “clean.”
- Make Your Explanation As Simple As Possible
Your child’s first dental visit may only take a few minutes depending on the condition of his or her teeth. A check-up of the oral cavity for indication of dental caries and the assessment of the oral health will be carried out. The dentist can also check for signs of an abnormal bite, jaw problems, and gum disease. A teeth cleaning may also be done.
When explaining all these procedures, keep it simple, or better yet, you can leave the explanations to the dental professionals who have been trained to deal with children and their oral health.
- Answer Your Kid’s Questions
Children are inquisitive by nature and are keen to learn. With this innate curiosity, your child can be interested in a lot of things especially the new ones he or she encounters.
As you explain the upcoming dental appointment, be prepared to answer questions. Do not dismiss them, but instead, provide helpful answers in the most child-friendly way (Go back to point number 3).
You can also use role-playing to help your kid familiarize with the dental environment. Let him or her to play with toys and slowly expose him or her to the procedures done in a dental clinic.
- Do Not Bribe Your Kid
When our children turn fussy and uncontrollable, we turn to bribes to shortcut our way into stopping the tantrums. But bribery does your kid more harm than good. It fails to teach him or her the value of good behavior because your kid will begin to think that his or her good behavior will always merit a candy, toy, or prize. Bribery, then, also fails to teach the importance of respect and responsibility.
Instead of promising material treats like candies, toys, and prizes, you can praise your kid for the good behavior.
- Share Good Stories About Dentists
You may have had an awful experience with a dentist, but your child need not know that. Do not scare him or her by sharing your traumatic experience during your dental visit. Instead, tell good stories about dentists and the neighborhood kids who recently visited the dentist.
You can also describe the good things inside the dental clinic. For instance, you say that the staff always smiles, or the dentist has a Superman toy in the office they can look she. Even minute details that can ignite interest and tickle excitement will be helpful in easing your kid’s mind to think that the dental clinic is not an entirely new place but has common traits he or she could relate to.
- Turn On Your Patience To The Highest Level
When faced with unfamiliar situations and forced to do things he or she does not approve of, your child can turn fussy, cry a lot, and may throw a fit. These actions are perfectly normal and age-appropriate.
Refrain from scolding your little one and using the dentist as a threat. Do not say, “If you continue crying, Mr. Dentist will give you an injection.” These words will only make your kid scared of the dentist and will make him, or her, avoid the dental appointments because “dentist” has now been associated with “punishment.”
- Talk To Your Little One In An Empathetic Way
Try to understand your child’s dilemma by asking if he or she is worried. Once you have established that your kid is feeling worried about the dental appointment, use brief and appropriate physical contact like a soft tap on his or her back, together with reassuring words.
Let your child realize that the feeling is normal and that most kids can be feeling the same way. By doing this, you normalize your kid’s feelings and lessen his or her embarrassment.
You can also share stories of how you were feeling during your first dental visit such as sharing you were as nervous as he or she is. Still, do not break into details of why it’s scary or such (Go back to number 6).
- Do Not Bring Your Kid To Your Dental Appointment
Exposing your kid to the dental clinic at an early age can help familiarize him or her to the environment and procedures. But bringing your child to your dental appointment is not recommended.
Without you realizing it, you might be looking anxious and fearful. Through observation of your behavior, your child can imitate this, according to psychologist Stanley Rachman in one of his proposed mechanisms for fear acquisition, vicarious pathway.
- Start Young
Dental experts recommend visiting the dentist as early as six months old to 12 months old or when your child’s teeth begin erupting. An early visit enables early detection of dental issues that can be resolved as soon as possible and prevent worsening conditions.
Moreover, at six to 12 months old, children are more controllable. Visiting the dentist at an early age will also enable your kid to be more familiar with the setup of a dental office at a young age and feel more comfortable as he or she grows older and begin to form some understanding about the dental environment.
- Bring Your Child To A Pediatric Dentist
All dentists can treat teeth, but some dentists are experts in a particular condition or area. Although a general dentist can check your child’s teeth and clean them, a pediatric dentist (pedodontist), a dental professional who trained and studied additional years to study pediatric dentistry, is your best bet to leave your child’s oral health to.
A pediatric dentist will know what to do in case your kid gets unruly. And most importantly, the dentist is an expert when it comes to a child’s teeth — an essential consideration as baby teeth may need different care than adult teeth.
- Go To A Child-Friendly Dental Clinic
As much as a pediatric dentist is a vital consideration, the dental clinic must also be checked to ensure that everything your child needs is within the premise of the dental clinic especially when it comes to emergency situations.
Also, make sure that it has the right and sterile equipment and area, as well as, dedicated corners for children while waiting — giving you a signal that the clinic takes special consideration for its little customers.
- Teach Your Kid The Proper Oral Care
Teaching your kid the proper ways to take care of the teeth will teach the importance of oral health and help in the realization of the need to visit a dentist. Explain to him or her what the teeth do like chewing, eating, and speaking.
Help your kid form good oral care habits by teaching the proper way of brushing, limiting his or her sugar intake, and doing all these regularly. Also, as children learn through models, be a good example to your kid by taking good care of your teeth.
Written By: Danica Lacson
Danica Lacson is a writer at Hawaii Family Dental where she discusses Dentistry, the oral cavity, the oral health, and everything you need to know about the teeth. She juggles her days off between eating out with her family and laying in bed and savoring the music of UNB and SEVENTEEN.