Many children are nervous before going to the dentist at first. Having a friendly dentist who gets along well with your child is important, and looking for a dentist who specializes in pediatric dentistry and is trained to work with children can help.
But what if your child continues to suffer from dental anxiety? Seeing the dentist regularly is of life-long importance, so it's a good idea to look into specific anxiety-reducing techniques.
For a child with dental anxiety, it's important that they don't feel completely powerless. It's common to set up a signal between your child and the dentist – such as a raised hand – that will tell the dentist to stop what they're doing.
Show and Tell
A lot of dental anxiety can come from not knowing what to expect. Ask the dentist to take the time to explain to your child what their procedure will involve, showing them the tools as they go. Dentists, and especially pediatric dentists, have training in describing dental procedures in simple and non-threatening ways that can help relax a child.
Some dentists may even demonstrate the technique on a doll. And if your child has an older sibling without dental anxiety, see if the dentist will allow your anxious child to observe their older sibling at their next regular appointment.
Positive reinforcement is an effective way to promote good behavior. There are two main types of reinforcement to use – praise and gifts. When it comes to praise, focus on what your child is specifically doing; for example, tell them that they are doing a good job keeping their mouth wide open. More general praise, such as telling them how brave they're being, is less effective and can even reinforce the idea that a dental visit is something scary that they must force themselves through.
Since your child's dentist is going to discuss with them how too much sugar can hurt their teeth, candy is not the most effective gift for being good at the dentist. But many dentists have stickers or even small toys that they give to children at the end of visits. Instead of promising a reward before they go to the dentist, let the gift be a good surprise at the end.
There are a number of relaxation techniques that are good for children. Staying by your child's side during the procedure is very helpful, as is holding their hand. If you suffer from dental anxiety, however, your child will pick up on this – it would be better to ask another relative to stay with your child during the procedure.
Another aid to relaxation is to ask the pediatric dentist to allow your child to listen to music through an MP3 player. And just as with adults, nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) can be used to calm younger patients.
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