Taking the anxiety out of taking your child to the dentist

Going to the dentist can be anxiety provoking for young children, but parents can help.

According to the American Dental Association, kids should visit the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth. After the initial appointment, they should visit the dentist every six months. Research has shown that regular dental visits can help reduce the risk of cavities and other oral health problems.

Parent and caregiver attitudes play a significant role in influencing children’s attitudes and perceptions about the dentist. If a child senses that a parent has anxiety, apprehension or fear about the dentist, those feelings could easily influence their child’s emotions. A parent’s positive attitude about the dentist can help the child’s visit go smoothly and hopefully, contribute to a lifetime of good oral health.

Here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension for alleviating a potentially stressful or anxiety provoking situation when taking your child to visit the dentist:

  1. Call your dentist office in advance, since they are all different and ask about their policy for having parents in the exam room and what the upcoming visit might entail. I personally was shocked when about a year ago I showed up at my children’s dentist office to find that they had changed their policy about parents accompanying children in the exam room. Although this was the dentist that we had been going to for five years, the policy was a new one. We came up with a solution that worked for everyone during that visit, but I would recommend parents always accompany young children under the age of five or six in to the exam room and challenge any office policy that states otherwise – not because the dentist’s office is a scary place to visit, but because parents need to be informed and engaged in their child’s health care.
  2. If you have your own fears and anxieties about going to the dentist, don’t share those with your children.
  3. Don’t make promises about the nature of the visit to your child. It’s especially important to not say things like, “It won’t hurt at all.” As much as health professionals try to reduce the amount of pain a child may feel, the reality is that from time to time, depending on the nature of the visit, there may be some minor discomfort involved with the dentist appointment.
  4. Choose a dentist that specializes in children. A pediatric dentist will have experience working specifically with children and will have a tool box of strategies, messages and tips to use when children get nervous or have apprehension. In fact, parents may want to ask the dentist office if they have special messages they have found to be effective for children with anxiety about visiting the dentist.

Visiting the dentist with young children can lead to a lifetime of good dental habits. However, if children have fear or anxiety, it can be challenging for both the parents and dental professionals. Working with your dentist office, finding someone who specializes in children and being strategic about the messages you give your children can help contribute to a positive experience for everyone.

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