Going to the dentist can be scary for a lot of children. The unfamiliar sights and smells as well as the uncertainty of what’s going to happen all add to a child being unsure and scared at the dentist.
Here’s what you can do to help your child have a better experience at the dentist.
1. Prepare your child in advance
Taking your child to the dentist by surprise when he thinks he was going to get ice-cream will definitely throw your child off and create distrust around going to the dentist. Instead, prepare your child as much as possible so they know what to expect. That takes away a lot of the uncertainty and fear.
Books and videos – Showing your child social stories, books and videos talking about going to the dentist can help your child get an idea of what to expect and what to do at the dentist.
Talk to your child about what might happen – Let your child know as much as possible of what might happen at the dentist.
o “In 2 more sleeps we're going to the dentist to get your teeth checked to see if they're healthy.”
o “The doctor might put some tools in your mouth like a mirror on a stick to get a better look.”
o “You can lie on mama while the doctor checks you.”
Be honest about discomfort or pain – You might think that telling your child that the procedure might hurt will create even more fear, but it actually helps create a sense of trust and autonomy.
o “It might feel uncomfortable when the dentist starts cleaning your teeth. I’ll hold you tight or you can squeeze my hand.”
o “You might feel a quick prick when the dentist injects numbing medicine on your gums.”
2. Talk them through what's happening while at the dentist
No one likes to be left in the dark. Involve your child in the process and let them know what the dentist is doing. Try to avoid distracting as it might cause even more fear in the long run.
You can communicate with the dentist beforehand that you would like to let your child know what is happening to them and would appreciate them going slower and letting your child see the tools they’re using.
As the procedure is going on, talk your child through each step and what the dentist is doing.
o “The dentist wants to put this mirror into your mouth to look at your teeth.”
o “Now he's going to put this tube in your mouth to suck out your saliva so it doesn't go everywhere.”
3. Accept feelings
Your child might still feel scared about going to the dentist after a lot of preparation at home. Or he might be scared once the procedure has started. Acknowledge the fear instead of telling them that there's nothing to be afraid of. It is also best to acknowledge their feelings instead of distracting. When your child feels that their feelings are seen and heard, they feel supported even though big feelings and juicy tears are still coming out.
o “You feel scared about going to the dentist. I hear you. Mama gets nervous too when I need to go to the dentist.”
o “It hurt when the dentist injected the numbing medicine. Papa’s here.”
4. Be your child’s calm
It’s important that we are aware of our own emotional state when it comes to the dentist. If we project our own personal fears onto our child, they’ll probably catch that. But if we practice staying calm, trusting that they’ll go through it okay, they’ll catch our confidence in them too.
Going to the dentist can be a positive experience for your child by allowing your child to be involved and in the know. This way, they get to have some sense of control over the situation. Your calmness and emotional support in acknowledging their feelings will also let them know that they’re not alone through it.