General Dentistry |4 min read

How to Help Your Child Overcome Dental Anxiety

In order for a child to enjoy strong oral health for a lifetime, they must start practicing good oral hygiene habits at a young age. One of the best ways to get your child to take better care of their teeth is to make sure they regularly visit Dr. da Costa’s office for routine cleanings and checkups. In addition to checking for signs of tooth decay, Dr. da Costa can also help educate your child about good dental practices and the importance of taking care of their teeth. However, many children (and adults) suffer from severe dental anxiety that makes scheduling a trip to see Dr. da Costa a very unpleasant thought.

Dr. da Costa and his friendly staff understand the anxiety many people have about visiting the dentist’s office. Experts estimate that between 9 and 15 percent of all Americans avoid scheduling trips to the dentist because they suffer from severe dental anxiety. That’s approximately 30 to 40 million people who regularly neglect their teeth and gums because of this debilitating fear.

Children who suffer from dental anxiety are more likely to carry this phobia with them as they become adults, and risk sharing their anxiety with their own children. This can create a type of perpetual cycle that leads to parents passing on their fear of the dentist from one generation to next until you have a mantle full of family photos featuring crooked teeth and gap filled smiles. To end the cycle of dental anxiety, parents need to get their children comfortable with visiting the dentist at a young age, even if they don’t particularly enjoy going themselves. With that in mind, here are a few helpful tips on how to make a trip to see the dentist less imposing for the little ones in the family.

The Younger, the Better

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents schedule their child’s first dental visit after their baby teeth begin to form, or around the age of one, whichever comes first. This means that by the time a child reaches kindergarten, they will have already visited the dentist an average of 10 times. Besides ensuring your child’s baby teeth remain healthy, scheduling early visits to see Dr. da Costa will help make your child’s trips to his office feel like a normal, routine activity. If your child cannot remember a time when they didn’t know Dr. da Costa, they won’t associate visits to his office as a scary experience.

Additionally, by postponing your child’s first trip to see Dr. da Costa until they get older, you risk them developing an oral health problem that could require they undergo an uncomfortable dental procedure to have fixed. If your child’s first dental visit results in them having a tooth pulled or cavity filled, they will begin to associate unpleasant memories to visiting the dentist. However, if their first few visits involve pain free cleanings and checkup, your child will associate pleasant memories to their time at the dentist.

Watch What You Say

Many parents attempt to comfort their child about visiting the dentist’s office by sharing their own dental anxiety stories. Despite the good intentions, telling your child that even mommy or daddy doesn’t like visiting the dentist does little to help easy their anxiety, and only helps to reinforce the idea that they have something to fear. This would be like telling your child that the monster under the bed scares the pants off you, and there is no way you could get to sleep at night with that thing under there. Children look to their parents for support, and will respond much better to words of strength and encouragement than hearing that their fears aren’t unfounded.

Better Not Bribe

Parents who try to negotiate their child’s behavior by promising them a reward can also negatively influence how their child views a trip to the dentist. By telling your child “If you behavior really good and don’t cry while at the dentist, we can stop and get ice cream on our way home,” they immediate start to wonder “Why would I cry?” By setting up the expectation that your child isn’t going to enjoy their trip to the dentist, you implant the suggestion they have something to fear when at the dentist’s office. Another problem with promising your child a candy treat right after visiting the dentist is that you send mixed messages about the lesson they just received from Dr. da Costa about the dangers of eating too much sugar. Instead of bribing a child, it’s better to praise your child’s behavior and bravery after the visit is over, and reward them with a trip to the park or other fun activity instead.

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