Managing Wellness

Conquering a Child’s Fear of Dentists

Posted by February 24, 2017

Let’s face it … even as adults, we sometimes experience a bit of anxiety before a dental appointment. But a child’s fear of dentists can interfere with their long-term oral health. So, here are a few tips to share with your employees that can help them prevent their children from becoming fearful, and advice on how to alleviate a child’s apprehension about upcoming dental visits.

Start Early

There are a number of reasons the American Dental Association (ADA) advises parents to schedule a dental appointment for their children soon after the first tooth appears (which is usually at around age 6 months) or at least before their first birthday. Even though a child this young probably is not experiencing any dental problems, an early dental visit will help their baby become familiar with the dentist, the office surroundings and the dental staff, which can set the stage for many pleasant visits in the future.

Another plus of this early visit is that parents can ask the dentist questions and get instructions on caring for their baby’s teeth, what to expect with teething and how often to schedule checkups. The best way to ensure enjoyable dental visits throughout a baby’s childhood is to keep his or her teeth healthy and free of decay; so parents who start their children’s oral hygiene program early are ahead of the game.

Finding the Perfect Fit

If an employee doesn’t already have an established dental home for their child, they should look for a dentist who is comfortable with and enjoys treating children. Making sure a child has positive experiences, along with good dental care, is key in preventing a fear of dentists. Here are some common attributes of dentists who are first-rate with children:

  • Encourages early and regular visits to monitor the child’s dental development
  • Has a children’s section in the waiting room filled with toys, books and child-sized furniture
  • Has a friendly and welcoming staff
  • Is open to addressing all of a parent’s questions and concerns
  • Educates parents on home care techniques and healthy eating at every visit
  • Explains the “whys and hows” of any treatment the child may need
  • Is available for emergency appointments

Pediatric Dentists

Just as parents have the option to take their child to a pediatrician for medical care, there are dentists who specialize in treating children. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, pediatric dentists must complete a two-year residency program after graduating from dental school. During their time in this program, they focus on child development and psychology, how to care for special needs children and oral/facial trauma, as well as conscious sedation and general anesthesia.

Because of their extensive studies and knowledge of behavioral guidance techniques, a pediatric dentist is often a good choice for children with special needs, for those who require extensive dental treatment or for children who have been fearful and unmanageable in a general dentist’s office.

Preparing for Dental Visits

Whenever planning a dental appointment, it is important that parents safeguard that it starts and ends on a positive note. And because they know their child’s schedule better than anyone, parents should arrange the visit for a time when their child is rested and more likely to be in a cooperative mood. For many young children, this is in the morning. The ADA stresses that while parents may have some of their own fears about the dentist or apprehension about their child’s upcoming visit, they need to keep these anxious emotions to themselves. Children can pick up on fear rather easily. They should never use a dental visit as a bribe, threat or punishment. And parents should always talk about the upcoming visit with their child.

Remember, preventing or allaying a child’s fear of dentists starts with Mom and Dad. So, encourage your employees to choose a dentist who is kid-friendly and to schedule the initial dental visit within the child’s first year. And don’t forget to emphasize the significance of preparing their child before an appointment and keeping up with good home-care habits. Since going to the dentist can be a fun experience for children, many little ones can’t wait until the next visit.

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