There are few things scarier than a masked person who wants to drill holes in your teeth. The dentist can be a stressful ordeal for adults, but for children, this can lead to teary eyes and an illogical fear that only small children can feel. General dentistry for children typically begins around the age of one, and regular checkups are scheduled every six months thereafter.
Many toddlers develop feelings of trepidation leading up to dentist appointments. The good news is that with some basic behavior training you may be able to ease the nerves and have a fantastic trip to the dentist office. A positive trip to the dentist starts with proper hygiene on a daily basis, a parent who sells the dentist as a fun place and having a reward system in place to reinforcement appropriate behavior.
A great visit to the dentist starts at home. If your child brushes their teeth and uses floss at least once a day, then they will most likely have no problems. For the most part, if a child is used to cleaning their teeth every day and understands the importance of proper hygiene, then they will generalize dental hygiene behaviors to include the dentist's office.
Our kids are constantly taking in information and watching our reactions to learning how they should respond to certain situations. It becomes the parent's job to hype up the dentist to sound like a fun new activity they get to do. If a parent jokes about the dentist being scary, or an older sibling says that it hurts, the child will mostly likely develop anxiety about their upcoming appointment.
In the week leading up to the appointment, you could find a fun children’s book to read together and talk about what happens during an appointment. In behavioral terms, this is called priming, where we are preparing a child for what is to come. It is very important to tell your child that it will not hurt at all and it will help them stay healthy and not have stinky breath. You should make the day of the appointment a special day, and make it sound like an exciting activity.
For some children, the dentist is an intimidating undertaking that requires heavy coaxing to make it through the day. A reward system could be exactly what you need to have a tear-free day at the dentist. The most important thing to know when setting up a reward system for your child is that the reward should equal the output of effort required to do go to the dentist and behave appropriately. This will vary depending on your child.
Some children just won’t be able to make it through a full visit without engaging in a maladaptive behavior. One option is to set a timer and every 10 minutes they sit in the chair without a problem behavior they get a 2-minute break from the dentist to play a game. These breaks help the child understand that the appointment will not last forever, and they can access preferred activities if the engage in appropriate behavior.