You should take your child for their first dental appointment when their first milk (baby) teeth start to appear – this is usually around the age of six months. Not only will this help to spot any potential problems early, it will also help your child become familiar and comfortable with the surroundings at the dental surgery. This early start, followed by regular check-ups, will help to normalise the experience.
Acknowledge their feelings
Don’t try to avoid the situation. Make time to speak with your child and understand what’s causing their fears or anxieties. If you know exactly what the problem is, this can help you to talk things through and reframe your child’s perception of the dentist.
Mind your language
It’s important to discuss dental treatment with your child in a certain way. You may notice that your dentist does this as well. For a start, keep things simple. Too much information or detail may make them confused, and therefore more anxious. Avoid words that sound scary like ‘hurt’ or ‘pain’. Using the right language can help to frame the appointment as a positive experience and a means of ensuring strong, healthy teeth.
Don’t transmit your own fears
There’s evidence that parents can inadvertently ‘pass on’ their own dental fears to their children. If you have any anxiety about visiting the dentist yourself, try not to make this too obvious to your child, and don’t mention your fears when discussing the dentist with them. If one parent is more comfortable with the dentist than the other, it may be an idea for that parent to take the lead with conversations and dental appointments.
Give them a preview
If you haven’t taken your child for their first appointment yet, ask your dentist whether they could sit in on one of yours. This can help to normalise the experience for them. Watching you have your check-up or treatment – with minimal discomfort and anxiety – is a good way to show them that there’s nothing to worry about.
Let your child take control
One major factor of dental anxiety – in both children and adults – is the thought of feeling powerless, or not being in control, during the appointment. There may be some parts of the dental experience where you can give your child some feeling of control. Maybe they could choose what time to have their appointment. Or if they’ve visited different dentists in the past, maybe they could choose which one they want to go back to for their next appointment? These may seem like small things, but these small decisions may help your child to overcome their fears.