A father who is afraid to go to the dentist is likely to pass on his fear to his children, say Spanish researchers.
Although the researchers at Rey Juan Carolos University of Madrid say that previous studies have identified an association between fear levels of parents and children, no study has focused on the different roles of mothers and fathers in passing dental fear to children.
In a study published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, scientists surveyed 183 Madrid schoolchildren ranging in age from 7 to 12 years old, as well as their parents. Families received anonymous questionnaires that asked participants rated their level of fear on 15 items related to dentistry and other medical issues.
Scientists had two hypotheses: the greater dental fear is for one family member, the greater it would be for the other family members; and fathers will have more influence on their child’s fear level.
The data showed that mothers reported the highest levels of dental fear and researchers also said the data confirmed their first hypothesis.
They also concluded that the father’s feelings about going to the dentist play a key role in whether a mother's fear of the dentist will be passed on to their children.
“Although the results should be interpreted with due caution, children seem to mainly pay attention to the emotional reactions of the fathers when deciding if situations at the dentist are potentially stressful,” said study co-author Professor America Lara-Sacido.
Prof. Lara-Sacido said the results point to a need for dentists to reduce father’s dental fear levels by providing them with accurate information on dental treatments, simple relaxation techniques or addressing negative thoughts to prevent passing dental fears on to their children.
“With regard to assistance in the dental clinic, the work with parents is key,” Prof. Lara-Sacido said. "They should appear relaxed as a way of directly ensuring that the child is relaxed too. Through the positive emotional contagion route in the family, the right attitude can be achieved in the child so that attending the dentist is not a problem,” she said.
MouthHealthy.org, the ADA’s consumer website, offers advice for parents taking their child for a first dental visit (http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/healthy-habits/)
The ADA recommends that a child’s first dental visit should be scheduled within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than a child’s first birthday.
“Don’t wait for them to start school or until there’s an emergency. Get your child comfortable today with good mouth healthy habits,” the website advises.
Although the first visit is mainly for the dentist to examine your child’s mouth and to check growth and development, it’s also about your child being comfortable. To make the visit positive, parents should:
- Consider making a morning appointment when children tend to be rested and cooperative.
- Keep any anxiety or concerns you have to yourself. Children can pick up on your emotions, so emphasize the positive.
- Never use a dental visit as a punishment or threat.
- Never bribe your child.
- Talk with your child about visiting the dentist.