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How to Help Your Child Feel Comfortable at the Dentist

Dental anxiety is actually a common problem that prevents more than 20 million adults in the United States from receiving routine dental care every year. Some of these otherwise health-conscious men and women developed their fear of the dentist after an unpleasant experience, while others have felt worried and unwilling about hopping in the chair for as long as they can remember. 

Fear of going to the dentist is often more common — and more intense — among children. Not only are they smaller and more vulnerable, but the very people they trust to shield and protect them (their parents) have brought them face-to-face with their fear. 

If your toddler, preschooler, older child, or adolescent is nervous about going to the dentist, we can help. Here at Robert F. Wilcox, DMD, PC, we take our young patients’ dental anxieties seriously, and we’re committed to ensuring they receive the kind of thoughtful, compassionate care that leads to a positive experience. 

Before you schedule your child’s next cleaning and exam, there’s a lot you can do at home to help them overcome their fears about going to the dentist before they even step foot in our office. Here’s what you should know. 

Master your own dental anxiety

Before you can help your child feel relaxed and comfortable about going to the dentist, you have to master your own dental anxieties, first. 

If going to the dentist makes you a little nervous, you may unintentionally transfer the same kind of worry, fear, or anxiety to your child. Smaller children often model the same kinds of behaviors they see, while older children are more likely to sense your unease about going to the dentist and start to feel uneasy about it, too. 

Ease their worries through play

For a toddler, preschooler, kindergartener, or even young grade-schooler, playing dentist a few times in the days leading up to a scheduled appointment can go a long way in helping them feel comfortable in the dental chair. All you need is a chair, a small mirror, a toothbrush, and your imagination.  

When you play the part of the dentist first, you can demonstrate how gently the dentist counts their teeth and brushes each one, individually. Take turns by inviting your child to provide the same kind of gentle care to their favorite doll or stuffed animal. And remember — there’s no need to talk about drills or give them a bunch of other pretend instruments to try out; sticking with the basics is usually best. 

Be mindful of your word choice

When discussing the dentist with your child, it’s important to be mindful of your word choice, using positive words to emphasize important concepts. 

Instead of making them feel like they’re being scrutinized by saying “The dentist is going to check your teeth and make sure you’ve been brushing properly,” try saying “The dentist just wants to make sure you have healthy teeth.” 

And when they’re in the chair, you might say “The dentist is simply going to check your smile and count your teeth now.” Avoid talking about shots, drills, or potential discomfort — instead, let your child’s dental team take the lead on how to introduce a new or potentially scary dental procedure. 

From patient to active participant

One of the best ways to ease your child’s fears about going to the dentist is by changing their frame of reference — instead of allowing them to view themselves as a passive patient in the dental chair, help them understand that they’re an active participant in their own oral health. 

Let them know that their daily dental habits can make an enormous difference in the kind of experience they can expect to have at the dentist. Brushing twice a day, flossing when they’re old enough, and limiting sugary beverages and snacks can go a long way in ensuring their regular cleanings and exams are as trouble-free as possible. 

Above all, don’t forget to help your child understand that going to the dentist is like having a really smart partner in oral health — we’ll do everything we can to make sure they grow up with strong, healthy teeth and a beautiful smile.

To learn more, call our Butte, Montana, office today, or use the quick and easy online tool to schedule a visit with Dr. Wilcox any time.  

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