5 Tips For Easing Your Child's Fear Of The Dentist

Many children fear going to the dentist for the first time. Why? The most common reasons are the fear of the unknown, the idea that the dentist is a stranger, they've heard stories about cavities and drills, or they equate going to the dentist with going to the doctor where they may have had negative experiences.

But don't worry. You can alleviate some, if not all, of your child's fears by employing some of the following techniques to make the experience a little less scary.

1. Be honest. 

‚ÄčExplain that the dentist will look inside your child's mouth to make sure his or her teeth are healthy and may take pictures of the teeth. Don't over-explain. That will only raise more questions, which can increase anxiety. If you don't know the answer to your child's questions, tell them that you don't know, but you can ask the dentist. 

More importantly, don't tell your child that everything will be fine or it won't hurt. Your child may need a filling or future treatment and then might not trust you if you promised that everything would be fine.

2. Read books about the dentist.

Though the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that children first visit the dentist by age 1, you may want to wait until your child is a little older when they can better understand what's happening. This is the perfect age for sharing picture books about visiting the dentist in a colorful and child-friendly way.

Look for books that portray a dentist as a friendly and helpful person who helps children stay healthy or look for silly stories that put your child's mind at ease. Avoid books that are for older children or too technical though.

3. Model good behavior.

From the time your child is small, allow them to watch you brush and floss your teeth. This will encourage them to develop good oral hygiene habits.

As your child grows older, take them with you to a routine dental appointment. Ask the dentist to explain everything they are doing and make sure you smile throughout the visit. It will help to tell your child how great you feel afterwards.

4. Bring a comfort item.

Confirm with your child's dentist that bringing a comfort item is acceptable.

If you bring a stuffed animal or doll, talk to your child's dentist about demonstrating what they will be doing on the doll.

5. Avoid using negative words or using a visit to the dentist as a threat.

Your child's first visit to the dentist should only be a routine cleaning and may involve x-rays. If the dentist finds cavities, they will discuss options for treatment and explain how to handle a future visit, but none of this should be particularly painful for your child. So try to avoid using negative words or talk about fear at the dentist. Above all else, never use a visit to the dentist as punishment or a threat.

The most important thing you can do to alleviate your child's fears is to validate their falseness. Reassure them that you'll be there the entire time. When all else fails, it won't hurt to reward your child's bravery after the appointment with a special book or movie. Talk with a family dentist, like those at Thomas E Rider, DDS and Allison S Reese, DDS, for more information about how you can work together to help alleviate your child's fear.