Next, is – starting at an early age (earlier than you think!). Early exposure to dental visits can help prevent and manage dental anxiety in children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommend scheduling a child’s first dental appointment by their first birthday or within six months of their first tooth eruption. Early visits establish familiarity, build trust, and reduce anxiety. Early dental visits also establish a great parent-doctor relationship which fosters a partnership as the child grows.
Communication, communication, communication! When talking to your child about the dentist, make sure we are using Age-Appropriate Language. Using age-appropriate language when discussing dental procedures is crucial in reducing anxiety. Research suggests that explaining treatments in simple, non-threatening terms positively impacts a child’s perception of dental visits. We also really discourage parents from “over-explaining” dental procedures, as this may create a false sense of fear and anxiety. Age-appropriate communication, child-friendly dental language (aka we don’t talk about *shots*).
Both parents and dentists alike should implement positive reinforcement techniques during the child’s visit. Positive reinforcement is an effective strategy to manage dental anxiety in children. Scientific studies indicate that praising and rewarding children for their cooperation create a positive association with dental care. Giving a child proper labeled praise during their appointment like “Mia, you did an amazing job keeping your mouth open so the dentist could count your teeth”. Additionally children can have a reward systems in place for each appointment that can be discussed with the dentists and other family members. At home, after the visit, it is important to reflect on the appointment and discuss the different elements that your child excelled in. After the visit, create a supportive environment at home is essential. Scientific studies suggest that parental presence, reassurance, and a calm demeanor positively impact a child’s dental anxiety both during and after their appointment.
Lastly, you and your dentist may want to incorporate relaxation and distraction techniques. Guided imagery during the procedure, breathing exercises, and music are screen-free options for anxiety management. Many pediatric dental practices offer music, movies, or handheld devices for distraction during longer appointments. These may all help get your child through their appointments.
As a parent, you have the ultimate power to help your child manage their emotions effectively. Our children are also mirroring many of our behaviors and feelings, so keeping a general positive attitude about your own dental care is important. Remember, scientific literature provides valuable insights, but every child is unique, and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for your child. With patience, understanding, and the right approach, you can support your child in maintaining good oral health and a positive attitude towards dental care. Happy Brushing!