Going to the dentist can be a daunting experience for anyone, especially for young children who may not understand what’s happening. Unfortunately, dental anxiety is a very real problem for many kids—and it can have far-reaching consequences if not addressed early on.
Dental anxiety is a fear or apprehension of going to the dentist. It can manifest as a fear of the dental office, the equipment, the procedures, or the dentist themselves. Dental anxiety can be so severe for some kids that it prevents them from getting the necessary dental care.
Dental anxiety in childhood can lead to avoidance of necessary dental care later in life, leading to more serious oral health problems. According to a study, up to 61.5% of kids have dental anxiety. This is more prevalent in smaller age groups.
So what can parents do to prevent their children from developing dental anxiety? Avoid making these four common mistakes:
Taking Them to the Dentist a Little Too Late
When was the first time you took your kids to the dentist? For most parents, it is only when their kids start developing dental problems. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday—or within six months after the first tooth erupts.
Taking your kids to the dentist later than this time frame can increase their risk of developing dental anxiety. This is because they are more likely to associate the dentist with pain and discomfort rather than with preventive care. As much as possible, take your child to the dentist early and make it a positive experience.
It would be even better if they could see the dentist before any problems develop. This way, they can get accustomed to the sights and sounds of the dental office, and they will be more likely to cooperate during future visits.
Choosing the Wrong Clinic
One mistake parents make is making the wrong choice when it comes to clinics. It’s crucial to find a dental care clinic geared toward children, and that makes them feel comfortable. Simply choosing the nearest clinic may not be the best option since not all clinics offer the same services, customer service, ambiance, etc.
Consider the clinic’s environment, the staff, and overall experience when choosing a clinic for your child. A good dentist’s clinic will have a warm and welcoming atmosphere with experienced staff that knows how to deal with kids. It also makes sense to find a clinic that can cater to patients of all ages, so the whole family can go to the same place.
Research clinics in your area, check their services and find one with good ratings and reviews before making an appointment. Before finalizing your decision, it makes sense to tour the clinic with your little one. The right clinic knows that dental anxiety is real, and their staff will be much more accommodating to ensure your kid’s comfort during the visit.
Failing to Communicate With Your Child
Many parents simply tell their kids they are going to the dentist without giving any context or explanation. This can be confusing and scary for kids, leading them to dental anxiety.
Before going to the dentist, explain to your child why they need to go. Be honest about what will happen during the visit, such as getting a cleaning or a checkup. Tell your little one that the dentist will help them and that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
If your child has specific questions or concerns, address them calmly and honestly. It can also help to role-play the visit, so they know what to expect. You can even read books together about going to the dentist, so they can visualize the experience. The key is communicating openly with your child about the dentist visit, so they know what to expect and feel more comfortable about it.
Using Negative Language Around Dental Visits
What words or phrases do you usually say to your kids during dental checkups? You might already be using negative language without even realizing it. For example, do you tell them that the dentist is going to hurt them or that they’re going to get a shot?
Using negative language can fuel a child’s anxiety. Instead of saying that the dentist will hurt them, tell them that the dentist will check their teeth. It’s also helpful to use positive reinforcement, such as telling them they’re being brave or doing a great job.
Positive language will help your child feel more at ease during the visit. Avoid making promises you can’t keep, such as telling them that the procedure won’t hurt or that they won’t need a shot. Be honest with your kids and let them know that some discomfort is normal, but it won’t last long.
Dental anxiety is real, and it’s something that many kids struggle with. Avoiding these common mistakes can help your child feel more comfortable about going to the dentist. Take them to the dentist as early as possible, choose the right clinic, communicate openly with your child, and use positive language during the visit. With the right preparation, you can help them have a positive experience at the dentist and develop healthy oral hygiene habits that will last a lifetime.