Adults and children alike can have anxiety surrounding the dentist. Fear is a learned emotion, so initially children aren’t afraid of the dentist. They learn that dentists are scary from someone they know, or by having a bad experience. This means they can also learn that going to the dentist can be fun, and that it’s an important part of being healthy.
If you are scared or have anxiety surrounding the dentist, try your hardest not to show these fears to your child. They are sure to be scared of the dentist if one of the people they love the most is afraid!
Here are a few tips to prepare your child for their upcoming appointment. By planning ahead and making going to the dentist a fun and exciting part of life, you can help ease their mind and quell any lingering fears.
- Talk About the Visit Before it Happens. Fear can stem from not knowing what to expect of a situation. Talk with your child about exactly what will happen on their trip to the dentist. Walk them through all the steps, from what you will do when you walk in the door to what the exam chair is like (they’ll get to ride up and down in the chair!) and what the dentist is looking for (he’s going to count your teeth and he might take pictures, too!). We have a quick guide for preparing your child here.
- Avoid Triggering Language. When talking to your child about the dentist, avoid words that might cause them to be scared. This includes things like “hurt,” “cavity,” or “shot.” Try to replace any word or phrase that might put your child on edge with something more comforting. I like to tell kids that I’m looking for cavity-causing bugs in their mouth, and that I promise to make them go away if I find any hiding there.
- Play “Dentist’s Office.” Another great way to prepare your child for what’s next is by playing dentist’s office. You can start by being the dentist and let your child play the patient and then switch roles. This will build a comfortable, playful attitude around the dentist and show them that there’s nothing to be scared of.
- Read a Story About Visiting the Dentist. There’s a children’s book for every situation, including going to the dentist! Find a fun book that helps tell your child in simple language what to expect and some of the reasons for going to the dentist. I would recommend the book “Just Going to the Dentist,” which features a classic character ﹘ Little Critter! A list of other options is available here.
- Bring a favorite toy. A security blanket or stuffed animal is a great option for helping kids feel more comfortable at the dentist. There’s no reason to leave these things at home! Your dentist should welcome any tricks to help make your child more comfortable in the dentist’s chair.
- Offer Rewards. Consider a surprise or reward for the day of your child’s dentist appointment. This will give them something to look forward to and pairs the dentist with a celebration of sorts. Here are some ideas for “rewards” for going to the dentist.
- A picnic in the park with lots of fresh, healthy foods.
- An extra hour of TV time in the evening.
- A new book (maybe a dentist themed one!).
- An outing to the movies, or a “movie night” at home.
You can also talk to your child’s dentist about how to prepare them for their first visit or work with them on ways to make your child more comfortable once they are in the office. Dentists who specialize in caring for children or focus on fear-free dentistry usually many helpful tricks up their sleeve.
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