For many, a trip to the dentist ranks as one of the most unpleasant experiences they could possibly imagine. Whether stemming from a fear of needles or feelings of embarrassment about the current state of their oral health, dental anxiety effects between nine and 15 percent of the U.S. population. That amounts to roughly 35 million people who avoid visiting the dentist each year due to their phobia.
Avoiding the dentist seems like a global trend, not just an isolated one here in America. A British Dental Health Foundation survey found that 36 percent of respondents avoided visiting the dentist primarily due to feelings of fear and anxiety.
Considering how many people avoid visiting the dentist it’s not surprising that tooth decay has an epidemic in the U.S., with one in every four seniors having lost all of their teeth and one out of four kids suffering from untreated tooth decay.
Like most fears and phobias, dental anxiety starts at a young age and is often carried on into adulthood. Visiting the dentist can seem like a frightening experience for kids, and most parents don’t do enough to properly prepare their child for what they will experience. This leaves children uninformed and scared when they don’t know what to expect when approached by the doctor in the strange mask.
Fortunately, you can better prepare your child for dental visits by taking just a few steps. Here’s what you can do to help keep a child from fearing the dentist.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentist recommends that parents schedule a child’s first dental appointment by the age of 12 months. In addition to providing your dentist with ample opportunity to spot any developmental problems and treat decay, early dental visits allows your child to establish a rapport with the family dentist and become comfortable with idea of dental visits.
If your child can never remember a time when he didn’t visit his dentist every few months, he’s more likely to react positively when making a dental visit rather than become scared or anxious. Conversely, if your child’s first dental appointment doesn’t occur until much later after he develops an oral health problem, that first visit could require a painful or uncomfortable procedure to correct, which your child may associate with every subsequent dental visit.
If your child expresses concerns over visiting the dentist due to dental anxiety, it’s not uncommon for parents to express their own fears about the dentist to let their child know it’s okay to feel nervous. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions, this tactic can backfire on parents and make a child even more anxious.
Children look up to their parents as both role models and pillars of strength. For parents to admit their own dental anxiety is like telling a child that mommy and daddy are also afraid of the monster that lives in the closet. Instead of providing your child comfort, you’re actually giving credence to the idea that he actually has something to fear when visiting the dentist.
Instead of relating your own anxiety issues about the dentist, respond with positive support regarding how grown up your child has become and that he has nothing to fear. Even if you don’t necessarily share these sentiments, you need to present a brave face for the benefit of your child.
Don’t Make Promises
One way parents attempt to make their kids feel better about a dental visit is to promise things they have no control over. While you might feel attempted to tell your child that her trip to the dentist won’t hurt or will be over quickly, you don’t actually have any way of knowing what treatments or services the dentist may recommend.
Telling your child a visit won’t hurt only for the dentist to find a cavity that needs filling will cause a child to distrust dental visits and what you have to say about them. It’s better to support your child with positive reinforcement rather than tell her what you think she might want to hear.
Another common tactic for parents is to promise their child a reward following a successful dental visit. Unfortunately, this kind of reward system can have a negative impact.
By promising a child a trip to the ice cream shop on the way home if he doesn’t cry and acts real brave, your child begins to focus on what they have to be brave about and what might cause them to cry. Instead of focusing on the reward, your child is more likely to become anxious about what comes before.
Instead of trying to bribe children into acting brave, reward them following a successful dental visit with plenty of positive reinforcement and a healthy treat like a trip to the park instead of a sweet snack.