EVEN THOUGH WE ALL know how important it is to go to the dentist, dental anxiety can make many people avoid crucial dental checkups. For some, dental anxiety starts in childhood and lasts a lifetime. How can we help our children start out with a positive mindset towards the dentist so that they will always seek the professional care and attention their teeth need as adults? Read on and start helping your child trust the dentist.
The most important thing you can do for your child is to not make a trip to the dentist into an ordeal. Simply approach it as a perfectly normal part of staying healthy. Tell your child about an upcoming dental visit ahead of time so that it isn’t a surprise, and answer their questions about what dental appointments are like. Try to avoid scary words like “pain” and “shots,” and leave the detailed explanations of dental procedures to us.
One crucial thing to do even when there isn’t an appointment coming up is to never use the dentist as a threat. Saying things like, “If you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll end up at the dentist!” will only make a child think dentist visits are punishments — something to be feared and avoided. You can still encourage good oral hygiene habits without portraying the dentist as the boogeyman, like the way this video does:
If your child is already afraid of the dentist, you might have a little more of an uphill battle to fight, but it’s still a battle you can win! Communication is key. Talk to your child about why they’re afraid of the dentist and help them understand that it isn’t so scary. Lead by example and show them that you go to the dentist too.
Patience is also crucial. Even for adults, the idea of having a stranger poking and prodding inside our mouths while we’re lying in a vulnerable position can be unsettling, so imagine how that must be for a child who isn’t used to it. Make sure your child understands that dental cleanings will make their teeth feel great and that the dentist is on their team, helping them fight bad germs and tooth decay.
Sometimes, dental anxiety is too strong for these strategies to completely cure. That’s where we come in. Our team knows how to work with children to make them feel more comfortable, so don’t feel like you have to make them love us without our help!
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
Backpack? Check. Booster shots? Check. Teeth cleaning? Check!
Regular dental visits are important year-round, but a back-to-school checkup is key in fighting the most common chronic disease found in school-age children: cavities. In fact, dental disease causes children to miss more than 51 million school hours each year.
Prevention and early detection can help avoid pain, trouble eating, difficulty speaking and school absences. “When people are beginning to do their pediatrician checks to make sure their kids are school-ready, make sure teeth are part of it,” says pediatric dentist and American Dental Association spokesperson Dr. Mary Hayes.
Between cookouts, camping trips and everything else on your family’s summer bucket list, it’s easy for school to sneak up on you. Unfortunately, many parents may not think about making that appointment until after school starts. Schedule your back to school appointment during the summer before everyone is busy with new schedules, homework and after school activities. Your dentist will have more open appointment times to plan around your family’s busy schedule. August and September are often of your pediatric dentist’s busiest months.
The best kind of checkup is a cavity-free checkup. Moms and dads can help make this happen by encouraging kids to brush twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day. Here is age-by-age advice:
Ages 6 and Under
At this age, your child might want to do all the brushing herself but doesn’t have the fine motor skills needed to do a thorough job. Let them start and jump in when needed. “During that age, the mouth is changing so much that children who are 5 or 6 are often brushing their teeth in the way they were when they were 2 or 3,” Dr. Hayes says. “They’re not accommodating the new molars, and they’re not accommodating the fact that the mouth is growing.”
By now, your child knows what to do, she just might not want to. Keep encouraging healthy brushing and flossing habits. “Be aware of the fact that sometimes you have to take over a little bit more,” she says. “By the time they’re teenagers, they’re starting to understand self-care, accountability for their actions and such.”
Dr. Hayes says this is a critical time for dental health. “When you look at research for when caries appear in kids, it tends to be in young kids. But another bump-up time is teenage years and early adulthood,” she says. “Part of this has to do with the fact that teenagers may have gone for many years and never had a cavity. They don’t necessarily take care of their teeth because they don’t see the consequence of not.”
Don’t let your teen’s habits become out of sight, out of mind. “The behaviors of the teenager are going to translate into the 20-year-old. We want to be able to support them and be respectful of them because they’re not kids anymore.”
Time of day can make or break your child’s appointment. “It’s important for a child of any age who’s used to a nap to not schedule during naptime,” she says. If your child is always cranky after waking up, factor that in too.
For older children, avoid cramming in a dentist appointment right after day camp or school. “Not all kids have the energy to do that,” she says. “I will have parents who want to do very elaborate operative work after school because that’s when the kids can come out. But if the child has already been exhausted or had a bad day or had tests, they just don’t have the stamina to make it through the appointment successfully.”
If you’ve scheduled back-to-back appointments for your children, there’s a simple way to decide who goes first: Choose the child who’s had the most positive experiences at the dentist. “Every child is going to be a little bit different in their temperament about how they approach a visit,” she says. “You generally want the ones first who are more successful because the others get to see how it goes.”
Feed your child a light meal before the appointment. “Hungry people are grouchy people. You want them to be comfortable,” she says. “It’s also generally a good idea not to feed them in the waiting room before you see the dentist because there’s all that food in [their mouth].”
Eating light is also better for a child with a healthy gag reflex. “Some children gag a lot just because they gag with everything,” she says. “As they age and they get more control over swallowing, kids tend to gag less.”
Bonus points if your child brushes before an appointment. “It’s polite,” Dr. Hayes says.
If your heart races at the very thought of the dentist, your child can probably tell. “Kids pick up on parents’ anxiety,” Dr. Hayes says. “It’s important with kids, especially at 4, 5 and 6, because I believe the phobic adults are the ones who had bad experiences when they were that age.”
The younger your kids are, the more you need to be aware of how you’re communicating with them. For example, if your child asks about getting a cavity filled, don’t say, “It will only hurt for a little bit.” Instead, encourage your child to ask the dentist. “With any child, you want them to be able to feel successful at accomplishing a good visit and link that positive feeling with the idea that their teeth are strong and healthy so they have that message going forward for the rest of their lives.”
If your child gets upset during her visit, the worst thing you can do is swoop them out of the chair and leave. “The next visit is going to be harder,” Dr. Hayes says. “You still have to help them get through part of the visit.”
First, assess why your child is acting out. Are they truly afraid, or are they trying to test the situation? “One of the reasons I think a 4, 5 or 6-year-old gets upset is because they think they’re going to be asked to do something they can’t be successful at,” she says. “They’re in an environment they feel they can’t control and that makes them upset, so we try to break it down into small steps.”
Then, work as a team with your dentist to keep the visit going. Let the dentist lead the conversation. Jump in where you think it helps most, while still allowing the dentist and your child to build a good relationship. “Give the dentist every opportunity to turn the visit around,” she says.
Accidents can happen whether your child is in sports camp, gym class or just walking down the street. In case of emergency, make sure your child’s teachers and coaches have all the medical contact information they need – including your dentist’s number. Grab business cards for your wallet, your child’s backpack and your school’s files. “Parents should be very aware of accidents and make sure that wherever they go that they bring the number of their dentist so that if a child has an accident, they can certainly call the office,” Dr. Hayes says.
This article was original published by the American Dental Association, at http://bit.ly/1Ei7pCc
We have a new video on our Youtube channel of Dr. Stafford talking to Don Hanson about his iOS app called Let’s Go Places. This is an intuitive social modeling app for all children learning what to expect for common trips around the neighborhood.
As April concludes, we wanted to call attention to the fact that this has been National Autism Awareness Month. With so many wonderful causes in the world and so few months, many of these causes can get lost in the shuffle. Below we present some tips for having successful outcomes when selecting and visiting a dentist with a child on the spectrum.
Your child has a set of flip cards to help him with his daily schedule; one difference in his day, and the world can seem to end. Or perhaps your child has a debilitating fear of change and new experiences. Going to a new toy store or grocery store can be a challenge, not to mention coming to a medical facility. What can you do?
1. Create a special flip card that shows a toothbrush & floss. Teach your child that they will see this card in the morning, and at night. Introducing dental instruments from an early age will help them as they associate being healthy with a clean mouth. When it’s time to visit the dentist, introduce a special flip card that shows a dentist (or maybe a picture of your new dental office) and is placed in their flip schedule at the appropriate time.
2. Communicate with your healthcare providers. Many pediatricians and pediatric dentists have had extensive training and understand the unique needs of children with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other diagnosis’. Their staff is generally well-trained and experienced as well – but they need communication from you ahead of time of your expectations. Let the scheduling desk know the diagnosis your child has so that they can plan appropriate time for their providers to meet with you.
3. Keep an open mind! Understand that each provider is different – and will approach your child with the techniques and tools that they have found work best with other children who have similar needs. If you or your child had a negative experience at another office, try not to carry that same expectation over into your new dental or pediatric home.
4. Acclimate, Acclimate, Acclimate. Many children, even those without specific diagnosis’ or challenges, need to have new experiences explained to them first in order to have the best experience possible. Small children are used to seeing and learning new things daily, but what teachers and childcare providers know is that preparation can be a key difference in whether a child accepts new information or a new experience with enthusiasm or fear. For children who have sensory challenges, this is even more so the case. What we have found is that by having several acclimation visits before a new patient exam, a child with Autism or sensory disorder can accomplish much more than they or their parents ever thought possible. Find out if you can take a tour, or play in the playroom. Ask if your child can simply sit in the exam chair, and then pick a toy and go home. Come back a second or third time and then complete the full exam – and I bet you’ll be surprised!
5. Don’t give up hope. It is a daily struggle for many parents – we understand that. While we cannot share from personal experience, we witness and share in the hurt and frustration. As healthcare providers, we work to support research and we try to find new ideas to help our patients. We want the best for your child, and for your family, and we commit to working alongside our families toward a better tomorrow. Never surrender hope!
Laughing gas is Nitrous Oxide. In the dental office laughing gas is used to relax the patient by being inhaled through the nose. The Nitrous helps keep patients comfortable throughout treatment. When using Nitrous it makes the patient feel like they are floating on a cloud and their fingers and toes will feel tingly, like when your foot falls asleep. At the start of their treatment appointment we flush the patient’s body with pure oxygen for 5 minutes. Then we usually leave the laughing gas on for the entire treatment. Once treatment is over, we flush the patient’s system again with oxygen for another five minutes to ensure the patient is back to normal when they sit up to leave. To learn more, please
contact our office: World of Smiles.
Dr. Staci Whitman and Dr. Michelle Stafford worked for nearly two years to bring World Of Smiles to North Portland. They seek to partner with families to provide education and motivation for healthy dental habits. The practice strives for excellent patient care with a holistic, integrative approach while offering innovative treatment options. Both Docs enjoy teaching families and other healthcare professionals the importance of prevention and laying a foundation of healthy dental practices from a young age. They advocate for infant and child oral health, have had extensive experience with patients of special needs, and are Board Certified Pediatric Dentists. Learn more about who your family will partner with at your next visit!