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Is Your Child Afraid of the Dentist?

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Is Your Child Afraid of the Dentist?

Does your child scream at the mere mention of the dentist? If so, it may be like pulling teeth – pardon the pun – to get your child to the dentist’s office.

February 2009 is the 60th year of celebrating National Children’s Dental Health Month sponsored by the American Dental Association. We all know it’s important to help children establish good dental habits, which include routine visits to the dentist, but what’s a parent to do with an apprehensive child? Give these tips a try to help promote a positive dental experience for your child.

Set a good example. Experts believe most fears are learned versus being developed from actual bad experiences. Many parents are themselves afraid of the dentist for various reasons, and these fears – spoken and unspoken – are easily transmitted to your children. The most important thing you can do is to be aware of your own attitudes towards dental treatment, and take caution not to pass your own anxieties to your child.

Talk with your child about what to expect, but choose your words wisely. Portraying a dental visit as a positive experience will help alleviate fears. Explain to your child that the dentist is a friend who wants to help his or her teeth stay healthy. Talk in terms that your child can understand. Let your child know what to expect, such as saying the dentist will count his or her teeth, take pictures with a special camera (X-ray machine), and then clean them with a special toothbrush. Avoid going into great detail, and never use the words “pain” or “hurt.” (If your child is having a cavity filled, it is wise to let your child know there may be some “discomfort,” but it will not last long.) It is best to keep explanations vague, and allow the dentist to answer the more difficult questions your child may have since he or she is knowledgeable in answering in ways children can understand without invoking fear.

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Begin dental checkups at an early age. Routine preventative care may begin around the age of two and a half. Starting early will allow your child to become used to going to dentist, and the early preventative care will help avoid problems and ensure simple checkups.

Select a dentist carefully. Ask for recommendations from other parents, and schedule an initial consultation so can see how the dentist interacts with your child. Your child can practice sitting in the dental chair and become acquainted with the various instrumentation. Look for a dental office with a relaxed atmosphere where they take time to put your child at ease. You may want to consider a pediatric dentist who is experienced in working with children and provides a kid-friendly environment. A child-friendly office will use the “Tell-Show-Do” technique where they first explain to the child what to expect, then demonstrate what they are going to do, then actually do it. Many dentists have become proactive in helping patients overcome dental fears by providing headphones so the patient can listen to music or watch television during treatment.

Lay low during your child’s dental treatment. As a rule, children behave better when parents are not present in the room during treatment, and it gives dental personnel the opportunity to build trust with your child. Stay in the room with your child for the first visit, then allow them to go alone thereafter.

Don’t offer rewards to your child for dental visits. This can send the wrong message to your child, implying that a dental visit is something unpleasant to be endured. Promote the benefits of the healthy teeth and gums that are a result of routine checkups.

Encourage good dental habits at home. Regular brushing and flossing can minimize the need for additional dental visits beyond routine preventative care.

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