Preparing kids for their first dental checkup
If your child is afraid of new situations, you might expect some drama as he or she slides into the dentist’s chair for the first time. Even a generally calm child may be a bit uneasy.
These suggestions can help you prepare your little one for that first office visit and lower the level of stress when it’s time to open wide:
Be upbeat about the dentist visit. Don’t suggest that going to the dentist will be unpleasant. Focus on the importance of gooddental hygiene, and discuss how regular exams can keep your child’s teeth healthy and smile bright. Before the visit, read children’s books in which the main character visits the dentist with your child. Your child will be able to visualize what to expect, easing his or her fear of the unknown. Don’t pass your own fears of the dentist on to your child.Telling your child not to be afraid will just make him or her wonder what there is to fear. Don’t offer more information than your child asks for. Saying that he or she may need Novocain – and explaining what it is – will only add to your child’s fears. And it may turn out that Novocain won’t be needed. Schedule the appointment for a time of day when your child is awake, alert, and pleasant. Many children aren’t at their best right before or just after a nap. Don’t imply that dentist visits are painful. Even if you had a bad experience in the past, it doesn’t mean your child will.
Finding the right dentist
Ask the dentist how often he or she sees children in the office. Studies show that children tend to be more relaxed when the dentist uses kid-friendly techniques. When looking for a dentist, ask what measures the dentist and his or her staff take to keep their patients relaxed and comfortable. Listen for things such as:
Remaining patient with fearful children Talking calmly and using humor and distraction to help reduce stress Focusing on and praising a child’s positive behavior while ignoring the negative Showing children instruments before using them, explaining what they are used for, and trying them out on the child’s fingers to demonstrate that they don’t cause pain
You may want the option of sedation in case your child becomes especially fearful or requires extensive dental work. If so, ask if the dentist uses nitrous oxide in such situations. After breathing a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen through a mask, children become relaxed but remain awake. They are able to talk, and can respond to and understand the dentist. Nitrous oxide is often called “laughing gas” because it can cause giddiness.
Finding a good fit
When you choose a dentist, look for a pleasant, caring, and supportive practice. If you don’t feel the dentist or staff is showing your child the proper respect and patience, don’t hesitate to find another dentist.
University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Taking your child to the dentist. Accessed: 09/22/2010 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Parent education brochures. Accessed: 09/22/2010 Consumer Reports Health. Nature sounds could ease your child’s fear of the dentist. Accessed: 09/22/2010 Shapiro M, Sgan-Cohen HD, Parush S, Melmed RN. Influence of adapted environment on the anxiety of medically treated children with developmental disability. Journal of Pediatrics. 2009;154(4):546-550.