Dental appointments may cause anxiety in some children, especially those who have undergone serious oral procedures at a young age. If your child experiences fear of the unknown before a first dental appointment or general anxiety stemming from a previous experience, you can help ease their fears by preparing them for their trip to the dentist's office.
Set Their Expectations
Tell your child what will happen at the dental appointment, be it a simple check-up or a more extensive procedure. Be prepared to answer your child's questions. Don't lie about what will happen; instead, describe the process in a way that is easy to understand, using comforting language. If your child prefers visual explanations, sit down together and look at pictures of pediatric dental offices. Point out the dental chair, the overhead light and some of the equipment used by dental hygienists and dentists. If you choose to reinforce positive behaviour following the dental appointment, discuss with your child how they will be rewarded; this will give them something to look forward to.
Allow Them to Bring a Friend
If your child has a favourite stuffed animal or other small toy, suggest that they bring it along with them to the appointment, provided it won't interfere with the dentist's work. Some dental offices have a special collection of toys for children to hold during appointments, which may help your child feel more comfortable. If you decide to call the office beforehand to alert the dentist to your child's nervousness, ask about bringing a small blanket or other comfort item from home.
Read Stories or Play Games Involving Dental Visits
Before visiting the dentist, try reading to your child from a selection of books aimed at their age level. Many television shows also have episodes dealing with first dentist or doctor appointments. You may also want to role-play using a toy dental kit.
Reinforcing good oral care habits (such as routine dental appointments) at an early age will help children develop a positive attitude towards dental care. Children should understand that dentists want to help keep their teeth healthy and that visiting a dental office should not be a scary experience.