Fear of the dentist in children is common. Not every adult goes to the dentist with a smile on their face and in a good mood. It can be considered a legacy of an era when not the most effective anesthetics and loud drills were used to treat teeth, which terrified patients.
We raise our children by example, so if a child is afraid of the dentist even though he or she has never had a dental treatment, it means we’ve done something wrong. Maybe mom or dad avoided going to the doctor or put off going to the office until the last minute, suffering from a toothache. This is how we inherit our fears.
And if the baby has already had a bad experience, the fears are understandable – he or she avoids getting hurt again. By the way, he may be afraid of the dentist after an unsuccessful visit to a doctor of another profile – there is a so-called fear of white coats.
There are many more reasons for this fear, and they are not always related to unconscious transmission of a negative attitude toward the dentist from parents, or a child’s own bad experiences. Below we will talk about the age specifics of each period and the causes of anxiety.
Developmental Age Peculiarities of Children and Associated Fears
It is characteristic of children to be anxious about the unknown and to experience fears from early childhood. Contact with a stranger may trigger the most positive emotions in an eight-month-old infant. By this age, he or she has already accumulated considerable experience with examinations, vaccinations and routine visits to a variety of doctors.
After the age of three, many babies develop fear at the sight of blood. This adds to the unpleasant experience of various kinds of medical manipulations. As a result, the child is afraid to have their teeth treated even when they visit the dentist for the first time – the reason for this is, among other things, fear of the unknown. In addition, in many cases, in the procedure room, the child is next to a parent, or even on their lap, and when they go to the dentist, they sit in the chair – the lack of close contact increases anxiety. What to do?
A Child’s First Visit to the Dentist
A child’s first impression is the strongest. If there is no dental experience yet, it is important to make it as pleasant as possible.
The first visit to the dentist is when the first teeth appear. It is usually recommended to visit this specialist at one year, regardless of whether the baby’s baby teeth have appeared. Try to choose a clinic with a friendly attitude on the part of the staff, as well as interesting decorations – this will help the child to get interested, relax and get positive emotions.
It is better that the first visit does not coincide with treatment, let it be an introductory event. The doctor will examine you, get to know your child, and your baby will get a chance to look around, see the instruments, talk to the clinic staff and stay in a comfortable chair. You can reinforce the positive impressions with a symbolic gift for good, calm behavior on such an excursion.
Such a measure will help you to willingly go to the dentist a second time, already for healthy teeth. During the second visit, you can have your child cleaned with a pleasant toothpaste. In the future, the child will be able to get their teeth cared for without fear.
Modern Tooth Treatments
What should you do if your child refuses to let you treat teeth for fear of pain? If he has already experienced discomfort in the dentist’s chair, the task becomes more difficult. There is no magic pill for fear, but there are many modern ways to make treatment painless and comfortable. We are talking about sedation.
This method is only suitable for children who are able to sit in the dentist’s chair, albeit with excitement. Sedation involves the inhalation of nitrous oxide, it is used in children over three years old. It helps to relax, relieve anxiety, and allow the patient to perform all the therapeutic procedures in peace. The child is conscious in this case, the sedation only relieves emotional tension.
For children under the age of three, as well as those who categorically refuse to even open their mouths in the presence of a person in a white coat, anesthesia is appropriate. Treatment in sleep is a more complicated event that requires thorough preparation. It is important to undergo a preliminary examination, as well as to consult with an anesthesiologist. Modern drugs allow you to immerse your baby in sleep without fear for his health.
Major Mistakes of Parents
If a child is afraid of the dentist, the reasons can be different. And it is important to exclude those that are directly influenced by parents. The most common mistakes include:
- Parents do not motivate the baby for treatment – he does not know why it is necessary and why it is so important.
- Familiarity with the doctor begins when the tooth already hurts or needs to be extracted.
- Parents resort to violence – trying to keep a screaming baby in the chair physically. No good will come of such an approach: the doctor will not be able to properly treat a tooth and put a filling in, and the baby will be psychologically traumatized.
- Parents choose the wrong time to visit, for example, visiting a specialist at a time when the child is used to sleep or is too tired for the day.
- Deceptive practices – parents promise that the doctor will only look, while a more complicated and unpleasant procedure is waiting for the child.
How to Help Your Child Not Be Scared of the Dentist
Conquer the existing fear in the child can be a few recommendations:
- Don’t shame your child: we are all afraid of something, and you will only make it worse by forcing your child to be ashamed of his fear, rather than openly talking about it.
- Go to the dentist regularly, not just when a tooth needs to be treated or extracted. It is important to attend preventive check-ups and go for cleanings – let your child have a pleasant association with the dental chair as well.
- Communicate with your child, explaining where and why you are going. Do not take him to the clinic by deception – he will lose trust and will not listen to your exhortations the next time you start to explain that “it doesn’t hurt.
- Set your own example: go to the dentist yourself. Choose a clinic where you can do it with your child, or just talk about your experiences. A visit to the dentist should be an integral part of life.
- How do you get your child to open their mouth at the dentist? You can’t. You don’t have to force it. If you twist a crying baby or threaten him, it could be the last visit to the dentist. Is your baby rolling in tantrums and not calming down? You’d better head home and try again next time.
- Hold the baby’s hand or place the baby on your own, sit in the chair yourself. Try to find a clinic where they will meet you halfway and treat your request positively.
- Promise a reward for your courage, and make sure you keep your promise. Is a tooth extraction planned? Tell your little one that you will take the tooth with you and put it under his pillow for the night, and in the morning he will find a gift from the fairy. Need to get treatment? Plan a trip to the store or buy a welcome gift in advance, give it to the doctor – he probably will not refuse to present his little brave.
- Play dentist the day before. Invite your child to treat his plush friend, use play sets imitating instruments, let him know how happy his patient is after treatment – now he can eat his favorite foods and feel great.
Choosing the right clinic and doctor makes a huge difference. A specialist who has found a rapport with your baby is able to distract and accommodate him. And the availability of modern materials will allow for an element of play in the therapy process. For example, the dentist could offer to choose the color of the filling or let you touch a non-sharp instrument. A good clinic will accommodate your wishes and allow your child to hold their favorite toy, give them a small present for bravery and courage, or show cartoons while waiting for an appointment. These little things will make a lasting impression on the little patient and create a positive attitude towards dental care.