Visiting the dentist is essential for kids to keep their teeth healthy, but a trip to the dentist can be scary for young ones. That’s why we talked to Janet Gargan, a pediatric dental hygienist from Chestnut Green Dental in Danvers, Massachusetts, about the approaches you can use to ease kids’ fears and make the experience fun and more comfortable.
Let Your Child Take the Lead
The first thing Gargan does when kids come into her office is to greet them on their level. In other words, she squats down and talks to the child eye to eye. She reaches her hand out and lets the child lead the way into the dentist’s office. “I never force kids into anything,” she says. “We can always reschedule the appointment.” You can do the same on the way to the office; letting your child run the trip keeps them from developing negative associations later in life.
Once in the exam room, Gargan uses some reverse psychology when she talks about the big chair, and how “only big girls and boys” get to sit in it. Instead of jumping right into the exam, she also explains how each tool works. She shows them their own face in the mirror and even how the “tooth counter” (a.k.a. the explorer) works. She demonstrates the tooth polisher by polishing their fingernails. Ultimately, she takes her time and explains each step before it happens. This is a great idea when introducing your own kids to scary tools and objects in the future. Knowing how something works is demystifying, and does wonders for kids’ confidence in new things.
Make Sure Your Child Is Comfortable
Gargan also makes sure kids are comfortable and relaxed during the exam. She starts off by “counting teeth,” which is really just to look for cavities. With older kids, she mentions how many baby teeth they have versus adult teeth. She also talks about the tooth fairy and asks them what they hope to receive under their pillow when their next tooth falls out (keep your ears peeled for their answer). You can help your child feel secure as well. Holding her hand can do wonders in making her feel more secure and at ease.
Entice Kids with Fun Pictures
One of Gargan’s best tricks is attaching postcards to the ceiling. This encourages kids to look up and feel more relaxed when the chair starts going back. It also helps keep a child’s attention when she looks in his or her mouth. “It started off with a few Disney characters, and now I have so many postcards up there that I need to go out into the hallway soon,” she jokes. If your dentist doesn’t have pictures for your child to look at, bring your own. A book filled with your child’s favorite character or even snapshots taken on your phone can do the trick.
Set the Stage at Home
Parents can also help set the stage to eliminate fear of the dentist at home. Gargan recommends reading your child books, such as The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist or Elmo Visits the Dentist. These books help explain the process for your kids in relatable terms so they’re more aware of what’s going on during the appointment. It’s also the perfect opportunity to explain the importance of good dental care at a young age.
It’s normal to be nervous about how your child will react at the dental office. Just remember that the pediatric dental hygienist at your office deals with anxious children all day. With his or her help, you can calm your child’s fears and make the experience more fun.
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