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10 Ways to Help Your Child Enjoy Dentist Visits

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Smiling girl sitting in red dentist chair and giving dentist a high five

We all remember what visiting the dentist could be like when we were kids. Some of us were terrified of even going for a routine cleaning — and God forbid they should find a cavity to drill! Now that we’ve grown up, those of us with families face another challenge: how can we make the dentist fun (or at least less traumatic) for our own children?

Shawnessy Dental has provided family dentistry services to the Calgary area for years, so we know all about how to handle children who are nervous or frightened. Set your worries aside and read all about how to prepare your child for a stress-free dental visit below:

Why Are Kids Afraid of Dentists?

Sitting in a chair while a stranger pokes around inside your mouth can make you feel pretty vulnerable (even if you’re an adult). However, most children who fear dentists do so because of previous negative experiences.

One Japanese study identified the following four sources of dental anxiety in children:

  • No trust: children, particularly girls, are more likely to experience negative feelings towards their dentist if they do not find them trustworthy. It may therefore help to seek out dentists who present as honest and compassionate.
  • Poor communication: girls are also more likely to fear dental appointments if they feel their dentist cannot (or will not) communicate with them clearly. Look for dentists who are straightforward and willing to explain their process during appointments.
  • Lack of control: boys are likely to experience more problems with their dentists when they feel helpless during their appointments. It may help to choose a dentist who makes your child feel like a partner in the process instead of a subject.
  • Belittlement: boys also reported negative dental experiences when they felt that their dentist was disparaging them or dismissing their concerns. Make sure to take your child to a dentist who treats them with dignity and respect.

The single best way to make sure your child enjoys their dental appointments is to choose a dentist who is good with children. Look for a practice with years of experience in pediatric dentistry and meet them in person so that you can be sure they will be an appropriate match for your child.

Wide-eyed boy covering mouth with both hands and staring at dentist during appointment

10 Tips for Making Dental Visits More Fun

Once you have chosen a dentist who can work with your child effectively, there are a few other things you can do to improve your child’s experience at appointments.

Help Your Child Become Comfortable with Dentists by Taking them Early

Taking your child for their first dental appointments when they’re still young and impressionable reinforces the idea that dental visits are a regular part of life. It also sets the stage for fewer dental problems in the future by teaching them healthy oral hygeine habits

Role-play as Dentists at Home

Kids love to play let’s pretend, so why not have them pretend to be a dentist? Role-playing can give them more confidence and teach them a little about the process, which helps to normalize the experience of going for an appointment.

Feed them First

Lots of parents avoid feeding their child before a dentist appointment, but nothing makes a child grouchier than having to sit still on an empty stomach. If you want to help your child stay calm and even-tempered during their visit, make sure they’ve eaten first. Obviously, we recommend something healthy and filling (and be sure they brush their teeth afterward!).

Let them Wear Comfortable Clothes

Some parents make their children dress up a little for the dentist, but this normally has more to do with the parent being afraid of embarrassment than it does to do with actual concern for their child. If you want your child to be able to sit still in the dentist’s chair for their entire visit, give them permission to wear clothing in which they feel comfortable and relaxed. No one but you is judging your child’s outfit, Karen — we promise.

Stay in the Room with Them

Leaving your child alone with a stranger isn’t the greatest way to help them relax. Find a dentist who will let you stay in the room during appointments, at least until your child gets used to the experience.

Invent a Safety Signal

Sometimes, even the bravest kids need a moment to breathe or calm down during their appointments. Come up with a signal your child can use during their visit to let you know they need a quick break from whatever their dentist is doing. Giving your child a way to indicate discomfort or slow things down for a second also provides them with a sense of agency, which will help prevent feelings of helplessness.

Let them Tour the Office Before their First Appointment

If you’re taking your child to a new dentist, let them tour the office before plunking them down in the chair for the first time. The more exciting stuff you can show them, the less apprehensive they’ll be when their appointment starts. Who knows — you might even get them excited about the experience!

Avoid Negative Language

Mentioning pain or discomfort ahead of the appointment reinforces the idea that dental visits are something to dread. Instead, make sure to talk about your child’s upcoming appointment in ways that make it seem like a normal, everyday task.

Avoid Bribes Beforehand

Offering your child a treat or toy in exchange for their promise to behave during a dental appointment suggests that behaving will be a challenge. Instead, it’s best to make the experience seem ordinary so that your child doesn’t have any reason to worry. Talk about your own visits to the dentist, and make sure to stay positive.

Offer Rewards After Visits

Even if your child gets scared or frustrated during their visit, it’s best to focus on the things they did well. Then take them out after the appointment and make a point of rewarding them for their good behaviour, instead of drawing attention to their problems. Giving your child a healthy snack and some words of encouragement after each appointment is an excellent way to help them form positive associations with dental visits.

Dentists are Nothing to Fear

Choosing dental professionals who are good with kids helps your child avoid negative experiences, but the using the tips above can also encourage your child to think of dental appointments in a positive light. You might even find that you’re a little more relaxed next time you have to visit a dentist yourself!

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