To a child a dental office can be a pretty scary place. Sometimes a child’s fear is due to a previous dental experience, perhaps they overheard someone else recounting an unpleasant visit, or maybe they just have a fear of the unknown that intensifies when they see any frontline healthcare worker.
With some children, no amount of persuasion can convince them to cooperate during their dental care visits – not even a few sleepless nights of pain. Even a seasoned dentist, using all of their trusted strategies, may eventually meet their match. To protect their long-term mental health, the dentistry of today does not forcefully restrain a child in order to deliver care.
Usually the use of Nitrous Oxide “laughing gas” is all that is needed to provide safe and effective dental treatment to a child. In emergencies cases, however, your dentist may recommend a specialist or prescribe a pre-treatment medicine to sedate your child. Some children need to be put under general anesthesia (G.A.) in order to accomplish treatment. There is always a risk when using G.A. so it is used with caution and as a last resort.
Dealing with children effectively while creating a positive experience can be challenging. A skillful practitioner needs to be able to accurately evaluate a child’s developmental level, temperament and coping skills then use the appropriate balance of patience and firmness all within a child’s first visit. They must be careful not to trigger more fear since they know that most children will shut down further and become more unmanageable.
Forming a bond of trust with the child, no matter how little, is key to laying down the foundation for their future care and building self-confidence in a child. Sometimes it take many short, positive visits – each interaction an opportunity to tear down the walls of mistrust and fear – before a child becomes comfortable with a new dentist and their staff. Each step forward deserves recognition and should be rewarded with positive reinforcements.
United We Stand
Central to the process of cooperation is the dentist/parent alliance. By showing a united front, the dentist and parents can stand together in the best interests to the child.
We always suggest to the parent that they defer their child’s questions about dental treatment to us. They may frame their responses like this: “I’m not sure. Let us ask the dentist when we visit next.” or “Perhaps we should ask the dentist that question.” Even the most well-intentioned parent can include too many details that may raise even more questions, give false hope or accidently mislead their child which may create more mistrust.
In return, you should expect that all members of a dental team be capable of proving a positive experience for your child in a pleasant and caring environment. If you feel that your child would benefit from a pre-visit to the dental office or their website, it may be an great opportunity for your child to become familiar with the office which may, in turn, help reduce some of their anxiety.
Parental Presence VS Absence
Some children do not need to have their parent accompany them into the dental operatory, while others cooperate better when they have a parent along for support. It is important, however, to let the dental staff perform their exam and speak to the child without interference. It is difficult for a child to listen AND follow instructions if there is distraction or more than one person is speaking to them. Most dentists who are experienced with children will speak clearly and choose their words carefully in an effort to make a positive first impression and establish trust.
Here are some simple tips to help your child establish a healthy attitude towards dental visits:
1. Start dental visits before a child’s first birthday to help establish trust and routine early in life. The goal is to hep your child establish a healthy relationship with their family dentist before any dental problems arise.
2. Conversations about dental visits should be simple, positive and age-appropriate.
3. Never pass on your own fears to your child.
4. Teach your child that regular dental visits are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
5. Choose your child’s dentist carefully and know ahead of time what your dental office’s expectations are for your child and how they handle fearful or uncooperative children.
6. Reconsider taking your child to your own dental appointment. What the hear and see as a spectator to your treatment may be a very different experience than the “kid-friendly and fun” visit the dentist intends for them.
7. Help your child become familiar with what goes on in a dental office by reading positive and informative children’s dental storybooks with them. Stay away from books that have storylines about more complicated treatments such a tooth extractions or pain.
8. We believe that children should have positive reinforcement available to them after well-behaved dental visits. A simple, single toy from our “treasure chest” and a new toothbrush is all that is necessary. Leave the money to the tooth fairy.
9. Establish good oral care routines at home and allow dental visits to be an extension of this home care in order to help strengthen the bonds of trust and form a lifelong partnership between your child and their dental team.
Healthy Teeth for Life
Learning to take responsibility for their health and well-being is a part of every child’s growth and development and it takes more time for some children than others. How you and your dental team approach this milestone will help your child make a successful transition from fear and immaturity to trust and responsibility. Each visit forward is another opportunity to prepare your child for the day that they will eventually manage their own health care as adults.
Together we’re Better,
The Your Smile Dental Care Team