A smile is worth a thousand words. But for a child who is afraid of going to a dentist, it’s worth a thousand tears. This article offers suggestions on how to make dental appointments fun for scared kids.
Dental fear and anxiety (DFA) can cause children to neglect dental care, resulting in poor oral health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of children aged 5 to 11 have at least one tooth with an untreated cavity.
As a dental professional, you want to give the best possible care to your young patients. The first step to ensure this is to help them overcome dental anxiety.
How You Can Make Children Comfortable During a Dental Appointment
Familiarize the Child with What Really Happens During Dental Visits
The lack of familiarity with anything can naturally cause a child to be anxious. Minimize this by setting expectations early on. Even before the child’s first appointment, you can give them a virtual tour of your dental office by emailing pictures to the parents. Be sure to exclude visuals that involve dental surgery and other procedures that may scare the child.
To familiarize the child with dental processes, recommend books, shows, and other child-friendly resources that positively portray dentists. This is also a great way to involve the parents in educating about oral hygiene so they can help make dental appointments fun for scared kids.
Create a Child-Friendly Environment
Transforming your dental office into a welcoming place for children need not be expensive. A simple modification can turn it into a happy place for kids. During the Benco Dental Gateway 2021 webinar, Dr. Jonelle Anamelechi shared some practical tips:
- Use bright colors on the examination room walls and decorate with special posters for kids.
- Put oral hygiene kits, such as baby doll toothbrushes and children’s toothpaste near the dental chair.
- Install devices like kid’s dental turbines, handpieces with rubber tips, and small monitors on the dental chair.
- Wear a colored mask with cartoon drawings during dental procedures.
Form a Relationship with the Child
Most children are afraid of dentists even before they have their first appointments. The fear is likely brought by the stories they learn from family members and the media.
In an interview for an ADA article, Dr. David Markiewicz, author of the children’s book Dentists are Monsters, pointed out that dentists have often been portrayed negatively in popular culture. Sometimes, parents even reinforce the stigma by using the idea of monster dentists to make their children behave.
As a pediatric dentist, it is part of your responsibility to correct misconceptions. Use every dental appointment as an opportunity to make a good impression. When interacting with young patients, always:
- Use a gentle, friendly tone.
- Be mindful of your word choices. Avoid fear-triggering words like blood, pain, or injections.
- Ask them how they feel and acknowledge their response.
Educate the Child About Dental Work
Be creative when helping children become familiar with dental tools and treatments. Use toys, books, visual aids, and tooth models. Storytelling is a good practice, too.
It is also important to walk the child through the treatment process step by step. When doing so, make everything like a game or an adventure. For example, you may pretend that dental procedure steps are like game levels they need to complete. After the treatment, reward the child with a simple token for finishing the game. Remember, positive reinforcement always works.
Partner with the Parent
Parents are significant in helping children reduce negative feelings toward dental treatments. To prepare the child for every visit, keep an open communication line with the parents. Also, remind them they are the best role model for displaying excellent oral hygiene to their kids.
But what if the parent also has dental fear? According to the American Dental Association, 22 percent of adults forgo dental visits because they are afraid of dentists. When children sense their parents’ discomfort, they will likely feel anxious themselves.
As a dental practitioner, you may intervene by interviewing the accompanying parent before the appointment. Find out if they have past bad dental experience that may cause them to be anxious in a treatment area. Work together in addressing the issues and discuss ways to make them comfortable.
You Can Make Dental Appointments Fun for Scared Kids
A terrified child on a dental chair is never a pleasant sight. But with a little creativity and a lot of patience, you can provide your young client with a fun dental experience.