When children give their first toothy grin, you’re probably not thinking about scheduling a dentist visit. But by the time your child is six months to one year old, you need to start considering making a dental appointment.
Though a trip to the dentist should be relatively easy for children, some develop a condition called dentophobia. In this article, we will discuss what dentophobia is and some ways for you, the parent, to help your kids have a productive dental experience.
What Is Dentophobia?
Dentophobia is a phobia of going to the dentist. 15% of Americans express fears about dental visits.
It’s important to distinguish the difference between fear and anxiety. Anxiety is feeling nervous while a phobia is a complete fear. Most children will feel some anxiety, especially the first time or even later in life, but a phobia will keep them out of the dentist’s chair altogether.
Dentophobia also strikes children, which can make going to the dentist like pulling teeth (no pun intended!). When children have a fear of the dentist, it could impact their entire lives and the health of their mouth and body.
Help Your Child Overcome Dentophobia
Phobias often develop in childhood, and dentophobia is no different. Dentophobia can follow a child their entire life.
Here are some ways you can coach your child through their dentophobia.
1. Choose a Pediatric or Family Dentist
While some parents take their children to their dentist, choosing a pediatric or family dentist might be a better fit.
Pediatric and family dentists are specialized in children’s health and understand children better than a general dentist. The office might be decorated with upbeat colors or toys to keep them occupied. Children look forward to these types of office because they’re fun and engaging.
2. Start Young
In this case, it’s true—the younger they see the dentist, the better! Building familiarity with the dentist at such a young age is helpful in the long run. Try to make the first appointment after your child’s first birthday.
3. Talk About the First Visit
Talk to your child about what a dentist does and why they must go. Going into too much detail about a dental visit might scare a child even more. Keep the details brief and to the point.
If your child is curious and asks many questions, a simple answer is best.
4. Watch What You Say
Try to refrain from saying anything negative about a dental visit. Words like, “pain,” “cavity,” “filling,” and so forth, might strike fear in your child. Allow the staff to introduce names of tools and procedures as this will create a relationship with your child.
Phrases like “clean” and “strong” or even “shiny” paint a better picture of the dentist and the procedure.
If you’ve had, or have, a fear of the dentist, don’t talk about it with your child. Your child has a clean slate with the dentist, and any talk of negative experiences is likely to cause more anxiety.
5. Role Play
One of the best ways for children to understand things is through playing. Take turns playing dentist and patient or encourage the child to use stuffed animals or dolls while they’re the dentist. Go through all the steps of a dental visit and make sure to practice many times!
If your child is not into role play, check out some books about the dentist at the library.
6. Plan an After-The-Dentist Trip
When the visit is over, plan a fun outing to celebrate! Don’t go overboard with ice cream, of course, but maybe a trip to the child’s favorite place would work. This can help the child focus on the positive.
7. You Child Might Get Upset Anyway
No matter the amount of planning and preparation you do, your child might still get upset. The best thing for you to do is to stay calm and allow the staff to help you and the child persevere. Most likely, they’ve dealt with many situations in the past and are trained to know what to do.
Remember to maintain a positive attitude and be encouraging throughout the process. A simple “Great job!” or “You’re doing so well” can boost a child’s confidence and, in some cases, reassure them.
Is There Treatment for Dentophobia?
For some children, dentophobia is very difficult to overcome. Thankfully, it’s treatable.
Consulting a mental health professional is the best course of action. There are even therapists who specialize in seeing children.
Why Does Dentophobia Happen?
Dentophobia occurs for several reasons, though each person is different:
People don’t like to experience pain. Those with a lower tolerance for pain will avoid the dentist for this reason.
Some people might feel embarrassed by the state of their mouth. Having your teeth examined also requires close-up inspection. Individuals who do not enjoy being close to others might have trouble.
Many tools are used when you see the dentist. The fear of gagging and choking is genuine for some or the use of a needle. When people sit in the dentist’s chair, they might feel a loss of control over the situation.
Other adverse experiences in the past could lead to dentophobia. This is why it’s so essential for your child to start young and with a positive outlook of a dental visit.
Dentophobia: Not Just for Adults!
Preventing dentophobia in children is possible by keeping a positive attitude and understanding of why dental care is so critical. Practicing these things will set your child up for success with the dentist for the rest of their life.
Are you looking for a family dental practice? Check out our page to contact us about setting your appointment!