Just because you’re a nervous patient doesn’t mean your little one should inherit your fears. A matter-of-fact attitude about the dentist and oral health will quickly be absorbed by your children and experts agree that introducing children early and often to the dentist's office is a big help. A visit to the dentist is only as scary as you make it.
You should introduce your child to their dentist as early as the appearance of their first tooth. When talking to your child, keep your language about the visit simple. Avoid using any words that imply discomfort and resist talking about your own stressors. When you get to the office, take your cues from the professionals. They have met more than their share of nervous parents and they’ll do what they can to make sure that any fear you have isn’t passed on to your child. They’ve had lots of little wrigglers and tantrum throwers in the chair and know just what to do to make the experience as positive as possible for parents and children alike.
Avoid the temptation to demonstrate a trip to the dentist by having a child sit in on your own appointment. It can be quite upsetting to see mommy or daddy in any position where they might seem vulnerable, particularly when they are in an unfamiliar space with strangers. This is particularly the case if you, yourself are nervous. No matter how brave a face you think you can put on, your child will pick up on your trepidation pretty easily, ultimately making your fears contagious. A calm and fearless older sibling or cousin might be a good alternative to illustrate the best behaviour during a checkup. Little kids love to emulate the more grown-up children they know and show everyone that they can do whatever the older kids can.
Try playing dentist with your child and some of their toys before the visit. Perhaps you pretend to brush a favourite stuffed animal’s teeth or help your child use a dental hand mirror to take a look into their own mouth. There are great picture books out there that focus on that first appointment and reading stories or talking about what goes on in the chair can go a long way toward normalizing the visit.
Don’t be tempted to engage in bribery. Nothing will make your kid wary of a situation more quickly than getting a treat for seeing it through. If you think that your little one has exhibited particularly “big” girl or boy behaviour, like sitting still, then consider a sticker or a small toy once in a while. It goes without saying that sweets should be avoided and the reward shouldn’t become an expectation for the end of every appointment.
There is no substitution for great oral hygiene and the better the habits you instill, the more unremarkable dental visits for your children will be. Your dentist will give you advice on the best products and oral routines for little mouths. You want to make sure that good oral hygiene is simply second nature for your child. The best way to instill that comfort with dentistry is to demonstrate that yourself with your own good habits. If they sense that a trip to the dentist, while essential, is as ordinary as getting a haircut, they will treat it as such. Eventually, they will build their own relationship with their dentist and reap all the benefits that come from fearless, routine checkups and fantastic smiles for life!
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