Does your child have a dental home? If not it might be time to think about planning the first visit. The first dental visit can be a source of anxiety for parents and children alike. There are many reasons why a child may become anxious about the first visit. It may be fear of the unknown, shyness, pain and tiredness, sensory and communication difficulties, a bad gag reflex, scary stories or a bad experience in hospital or with a past dental procedure. Many parents have dental anxiety themselves which children are usually very quick to pick up on. There are a number of practical ways in which parents can prepare children so as to make the visit as positive as possible and leave children wanting to return for their next check-up.
Taking the time to introduce children to the dental surgery step by step through play, helps to build trust and breaks down fear. Paediatric Dentists have advanced training and expertise in this approach. Children need dental care in a compassionate, empathic and child friendly environment. It is always better if a child’s first visit does not involve treatment so they have a chance to get used to the dentist and their new surroundings. This can only happen if visits start early before pain and problems begin. The best time to start dental visits is when the first teeth erupt in the mouth and no later than 12 months of age.
Children of dentally anxious parents usually show more dental fear. Children pick up on both words and body language when their parents are anxious. Phrases such as “it’s not going to hurt”, or “don’t worry, they won’t hurt you” may scare a child. It is wise to avoid the use of words such as “hurt”, “pain”, “drill” or “needle” and focus on positive things like how grown up they are being or how gentle the dentist is. If you promise your child a gift they may understand that to mean that the worse they behave during the visit the more they get. Only good behaviour should be rewarded. The most natural instinct a parent will have is to reassure their child. This can sometimes make the child think something bad is going to happen, even when it is not.
The following tips have been tried and tested as a way to make the first visit a good experience:
· Select a child friendly dental practice; if you are nervous consider dropping by yourself to meet the team
· Make going to the dentist feel like part of growing up
· Use positive words and associations to describe what will happen “the gentle lady/man will count your teeth”
· Never use words like “needle”, “blood” or “injection” when talking about the visit
· Going to the dentist shouldn’t be used as a threat or punishment
· Don’t let anyone tell your child scary stories about the dentist
So if your child doesn’t already have a dental home, you know what to do-keep little teeth happy and visit the dentist early.