Visits to family dentists can be scary experiences for your children. They’re separated from you in a strange place with adults they may not know, and if they don’t understand why they’re there, it may be even worse.
It is possible, though, to make family dental care a pleasant experience for you and your child. Here are some dos and don’ts for preparing your child for a dental visit:
DO: tell your child what to expect in simple terms. Give them a basic idea of what will happen, and act out a dental visit at home with each other or with dolls to get them acclimated. Answer their questions in a way that’s simple and right to the point and leave the more complex questions to the dentist. Pediatric dentists usually go through training to know how to describe things to children in a way that puts them at ease.
DON’T: use words like “hurt,” “pain” or “shot.” These are red flags that kids learn very early on and will only increase their anxiety heading into their appointment. Also, avoid going into too much detail, since any confusion will only give your child more to worry about.
DO: be a good role model for your child. Remind children that you go to the dentist and it’s not a big deal, and show them how clean your teeth are afterward. Also practice good oral hygiene habits so children understand that they’re important. Emphasize how important good dental care is and explain that a dentist is part of keeping teeth healthy.
DON’T: focus too much on your own dental experiences. If you tell your child stories about painful root canals or scary cosmetic dental procedures, they’re going to assume that those will eventually be part of their experience. It’s not always a good idea to bring them to your dental visits either. Children can pick up on anxiety you don’t even realize you’re displaying, and it may only make them more anxious.
DO: use positive reinforcement. It is possible to make kids think of the dentist as fun. Let them bring a stuffed toy or blanket if it will comfort them, and congratulate and reward your child for behaving themselves at the family dentist and having healthy teeth. Don’t promise the reward ahead of time, though, since it may cause the child to anticipate a harrowing experience.
You can always ask your family dentist for creative ideas as well.