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I was talking to my friend the other day about her daughter’s upcoming appointment with the dentist. She was going on and on about how her daughter’s anxiety about going to the dentist was starting to cause my friend to have anxiety about it too. Then this got me thinking about my own daughter’s first trip to the dentist. The first thing she did was run and curl up in the corner, refusing to come out for both the hygienist and the dentist. No matter what tricks we tried, she refused to cooperate. Looking back, I can contribute her behavior to pediatric dental anxiety which as it turns out is actually a pretty common thing. Here I’ve compiled some tips to help manage pediatric dental anxiety.

1. Read Dental Storybooks.

Nowadays there’s a storybook for every topic under the sun. Go to your local library, Barnes N Noble, or Amazon Prime account and pick up one or two books that talk about going to the dentist. Many children relate better to characters who are going through the same thing that they are and they can see it right in front of their eyes. These books have colorful illustrations and easy to understand language made especially for children. Some of my favorite dental books are The Berenstain Bears Visit The Dentist, Show Me Your Smile!: A Visit To The Dentist, and The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss.

2. Play “Dentist”.

My daughter has an entire room full of toys and gadgets and yet her favorite thing to play is “house” or “school”. So let’s take it one step further and play “Dentist”. What better way to get your child comfortable with the idea of going to the dentist than some fun, carefree role playing in the comfort of their own home? Mom or Dad, you pretend to be the Dentist while your child is the patient. Pretend to count and clean their teeth and then switch and let them be the Dentist while you’re the patient. They can also pretend to be the Dentist on their dolls or stuffed animals.

3. Start Dental Visits When They’re Young.

It’s recommended that children start going to the dentist as young as one year old. Starting at a young age will help alleviate some of your children’s fear associated with going to the dentist. The first one or two visits may be rough but if they get in the habit early enough, it will become natural and comfortable to them to continue good oral health and yearly visits with their dentist.

4. Keep Good Lines of Communication Open.

I don’t know about you, but my daughter remembers everything. If I told her never to wear blue socks on Wednesday’s when she was 3 years old, I can assure you that she will remember and remind me of that fact now at 11 years old. Children’s young brains are like sponges. They soak up everything that’s going on around them and everything they hear or are told. It’s both a blessing and a curse. In this case, it can be a blessing. Talk up the dentist and what they can expect. Don’t associate negative words like “hurt” or “pain” or “discomfort” when speaking about your past experiences. Instead, keep it positive. Encourage them to ask you questions. My daughter also loves to know what’s coming. If she has a dentist appointment in two weeks, I’ll start casually mentioning it to her once a day. We talk about what day it’s on, what time, the logistics (if she has to get right off the bus and into the car, the timing, etc.), what she’s going for, which hygienist and dentist she’ll be seeing at her appointment, etc. You can never prepare your child too much and children love to know what to expect. The more you talk about what they can expect, the more their brains will soak up everything you’re saying and they’ll start to become more open and comfortable to the idea of going to the dentist.

5. Distraction and Redirection.

Raising a child with ADHD, I consider myself somewhat of a Distraction and Redirection Queen in our household. After doing this for 11 years, it just comes naturally to me now. Distraction and redirection can work just as well in typical kids too, especially when their fears and anxiety over sitting in the dentist chair are overwhelming them. Bring a favorite stuffed animal or toy that they can hold onto and be comforted by when they’re in the chair. It will also give them something else to do and think about instead of obsessing over what’s going on in their mouths at that time. Most dental offices also have TV’s in their rooms. Plan the appointment around the time their favorite show will be on TV. Another strategy would be to have your child close their eyes and walk them through picturing a happy event or time in their life so that they’re focused on happy thoughts while the hygienist and dentist do their job. It can be a birthday party, a family vacation, or a recent playdate they enjoyed. Distraction and redirection are key to assisting them get through their dental appointments while minimizing anxiety.

Dental anxiety is real and we shouldn’t minimize our kids’ feelings. Pay attention to what they’re telling you and then use one or all of these tips and tricks I mentioned to help them (and you) get through their appointment with ease. I used these tips and tricks on my own daughter and we’ve come so far since her first appointment. She now looks forward to going to the dentist and her fear and anxiety are gone. Let us help you make your child’s dental appointment as smooth as possible. Call us today to make an appointment and let us know any specific concerns you may have so that we can put your mind at rest.

{Charmoy Dental Associates: 973-584-0008}