Helping your child feel at ease in the dentist chair is an important step towards laying a foundation of good oral health for life. But where should you start, especially if you always feel nervous before dental appointments yourself?
Start and stay positive
Dentists and health professionals’ top recommendation for parents is to model positive feelings towards teeth brushing and tooth health, right from your child’s first milk tooth. This way you can help them feel more relaxed about you, and others, cleaning their teeth, inspecting their teeth and thinking about how to protect their teeth. All of which could help your child be more accepting of their dentist’s request to peak inside their mouth to check their teeth.
Children can warm up to the idea of visiting the dentist after pointing at pictures and enjoying fun stories dreamt up by writers about teeth (yes, they exist in their droves – see link below). Titles range from picture books such as ‘Melvin the Magnificent Molar’ to the comprehensive ‘ABC Dentist: Healthy Teeth from A to Z,’ meaning there’s an age-appropriate story for every parent to add to their tool kit.
Good conversation starters include asking your child “how do you think the character feels during his visit to the dentist?”, “why do you think the dentist has asked the character to sit in the chair?” or “how would you feel?”
Children have always loved toy stethoscopes and dressing up as doctors, so is there any reason not to introduce a toy dentistry kit? Add wooden sets of teeth and child-sized dentist uniforms to their toy box for make-believe fun. Playing dentists together helps introduce some of the words they’ll hear at the dentist surgery and they’ll be better prepared for opening their mouths up wide and having their teeth checked.
Parents and family members would do well to be mindful of how they speak about the dentist. Definitely ban conversations about pain, needles, drills and blood, and instead focus on the positive elements of the dentist’s job. Big bright smiles, strong healthy teeth and biting off big bites of tasty food are the subjects to focus on, while describing the dentist as helpful, kind and gentle is also recommended.
Hold their hand
It’s only natural to dread seeing your child upset or uncomfortable in any situation. When taking your child to the dentists remember to reassure them every step of the way from leaving home to climbing out of the dentist’s chair. You might even be asked to sit in the chair with your child to hold their hand and offer support – what better way to reassure them through the appointment?
Researching what to expect to see during a visit to the dentist with your child is sensible, suggest experts. Adult patients often close their eyes or stare at the ceiling, but a parent’s perspective of dental checks, equipment and treatments is very different. Some parents can find watching dental procedures from a front row seat extremely stressful, and their anxiety could unsettle their child. Watch videos on YouTube to familiarize yourself with the process if you have concerns, and be prepared to take the experience in your stride.
Goodreads.com has an extensive list of children’s books about dentists and healthy teeth, here – https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/87433.Children_s_books_about_dental_health
Further information about taking care of children’s teeth is available from the NHS, here – https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/taking-care-of-childrens-teeth/
Visit the Oral Health Foundation for more advice on oral health in the early years, here – https://www.dentalhealth.org/childrens-teeth