If your child is fearful about their dentist appointment, then they are far from being alone. In fact, up to three-fourths of American adults have at least a mild fear of going to the dentist. It is understandable then that children are much more likely to feel some level of dental anxiety. However, while being fearful is an understandable response, it can become a crippling problem if a child is not provided with the proper support and mental coping skills to address their fears. Below are several specific strategies that can help your child deal with their dental anxiety in a reasonable, therapeutic manner; keep reading to learn more:
Make coping with anxiety the primary focus
Lots of things can and will bring anxiety to your child as they mature: schools, relationships, careers and major life decisions are just a few of the potential "anxiety-evokers" your child will face. However, along with anxiety comes a lot of life's most rewarding moments, and a failure to engage due to fear will leave their life less fulfilled.
That's why you should make coping an overarching theme when helping your child to handle their fear of dental visits. Other behaviors, such as escaping, avoiding or denying, only lead to frustration and aggravation of existing fears. Your child should understand that the event itself, the dental visit, is going to occur and that not going is not an option. However, they should also find reassurance they will cope with their fear and emerge from their visit with increased confidence and satisfaction in their ability to deal with their emotions.
Take a field trip to the dentist's office
Since coping, rather than avoiding, is the desired behavior to reinforce with your child, an excellent start is to acquaint them with the dentist, dental staff and the office environment at some point before their appointment. This will provide your child with a moment to merely observe the action and ask questions of the dentist and staff. In addition, a trusting relationship can begin to form before your child will have to sit in a chair, and the dentist will earn credibility that will help your child feel at ease with someone who is no longer a stranger to them.
When scheduling a field trip, be sure to contact the dental office well in advance of your desired date and time. It is important to respect their schedule and prepare them so they can provide the right type of atmosphere for your child. Request a couple of minutes for your child to meet the dentist in an informal, non-threatening setting such as the dentist's personal office or in the reception area. Don't ask for too much time, but try to keep the pace of the visit relaxed and informal.
Know how to communicate with your child about their fears
Establishing a good coping routine in your child is based largely upon how well you can communicate with them. That's why you should understand how to talk with your child in such a way that you will neither downplay nor overplay their anxieties. Here are a few specific ways you can accomplish this:
Don't allow your language to lead your children toward anxiety - It's good to ask questions about your child's feelings, but be sure not to lead them deeper into it. For example, don't ask your child "are you worried about visiting the dentist?"; instead, ask them "how do you feel about visiting the dentist?"
Distraction before the event is helpful - Conversation is healthy, but prolonged, excessive conversation right before an event can be counterproductive. The moments before a visit may be the most anxious, so keep the conversation about the trip to the dentist minimal. Instead, focus on events afterward and carry on other normal business, such as a trip to the grocery store or running errands, right up until the time of the visit. In addition, scheduling the appointment first thing in the morning can also be helpful, as it keeps your child from building anxiety over the course of the day.
Talk through specific fears if your child is willing and able - Be sure that your child is capable and mature enough to handle this next step, but it can be immensely helpful for some children to have a conversation about the logical conclusions regarding their fears. For example, if your child is afraid of something hurting at the dentist office, you can candidly discuss the methods used by the dentist to prevent pain. Or, in the case of something actually hurting, it may be helpful to talk about past events that have been painful for your child, such as a scraped knee or bump on the head and how trivial those things were in hindsight. By recognizing that the "worst" is not as bad as it may seem upfront, many children will find reassurance and confidence needed for their visit to a pediatric dental clinic like Cobbe Dental & Orthodontics.