Talk to a group of adults about going to the dentist, and there’s a good chance at least one in the bunch will admit it gives them anxiety.
But for young children unfamiliar with dentists and the importance of oral health, a trip to have their teeth cleaned can be especially frightening.
Dr. Michael Morton, Dental Director at the Dena’ina Wellness Center, says there are step parents can take to help alleviate their child’s fears.
“Present it as something fun and exciting,” Morton said. “Avoid negative words such as ‘hurt,’ ‘drill’ and ‘shot.’”
To help reduce anxiety, Morton said it’s important for parents to explain to their children what occurs during visits to the dentist, including that the dentist will count, brush and take pictures of their teeth. It’s also important, he said, to be encouraging and upbeat.
The Dental Program prefers to begin seeing them once every six months beginning at the age of 2. At that age, it also is beneficial for children to watch their parent’s teeth be professionally cleaned because it familiarizes them with the process.
Many hygienists even recommend that an adult brush a child’s teeth until the age of 9 or 10, Morton said, because children continue to develop fine motor skills up to that age.
“This will make the habit routine and they will have better check-ups when they see the dentist,” Moron said.
The Dental Program partners with the Early Childhood Center to provide students with oral health screenings and fluoride treatments as the beginning of each school year, and second round of fluoride treatments in spring.
Children learn about nutrition and the importance of maintaining good oral health habits.
Teresa Smith, Early Childhood Center Manager, said it’s an important and beneficial partnership for the students.
“It really helps the kids. They get to know who the dentists are and what to expect, and they know that they don’t need to be afraid,” Smith said. “We immensely appreciate the partnership and look forward to continuing it for a long time.”
Morton established the “Cavity-Free Club,” giving children up to the age of 16 a chance to have their photo taken and win free movie tickets if they arrive to their six-month checkup without any cavities.
“The program is a huge success and helps to maintain healthy oral habits,” Morton said.
TIPS TO MANAGE YOUR CHILD’S DENTAL ANXIETY
- Explain how it works: Your child is less likely to be surprised or caught off guard if you cover the basics before their appointment.
- Practice: Role-playing beforehand can help familiarize your child with the process so they’re prepared for the real appointment.
- Don’t offer material rewards for good behavior: Instead of bribing them with material incentives, verbally praise your child following the appointment.
- Explain good oral hygiene: Tell your child, in simple terms, that going to the dentist will keep their teeth strong and their smile looking great.
- Focus on your child: Although it might be tempting to use your own dental experiences as an example, focus all the attention on your child; this can boost their confidence.
*Information from www.lh360.com.