Healthy habits and behaviors are shared between family members. Love snacking on carrots and ranch? Enjoy riding your bike through the neighborhood? Chances are good that your kids do too.
Dental anxiety is no different. It affects all ages and can be passed from one family member to another. It’s also common for children to have dental caries if their parent has dental fear or anxiety. The good news is that dental anxiety can be overcome. Read on for tips to ease your family’s dental anxiety.
Dental Fear is Contagious
It’s difficult for a child to draw the connection, “My mom is anxious because they don’t like the idea of going to the dentist.” It’s much easier for a child to think, “My mom doesn’t like the dentist because the dentist is bad.” Because of this, children should have no idea that their parent fears the dentist. If you experience anxiety about dental appointments, it’s important to educate yourself and other adult family members on how to not communicate this fear to younger children.
Luckily, pediatric dentists are trained to handle your child during their appointment. Most dentists actually encourage parents to let them do the talking. Many times when an anxious parent or guardian tries to make a dental visit less frightening, they actually make the child more nervous.
Good Oral Health Habits Start Early
Teaching your children to brush their teeth twice a day is–and helping them do so when they are too small to brush on their own–is a great start to a lifetime of good oral health. But it’s also important to help your child develop a healthy relationship with their dentist at a young age. In fact, children should have their first trip to the dentist by age 1. This has many positive benefits:
- Your child will learn to trust the dentist from an early age, preventing future dental anxiety.
- Your child form the habit of visiting their dentist every 6 months, which they will carry for a lifetime.
- And you’re giving your child the opportunity to learn about their smile health and their overall health.
As a parent or guardian, stay positive and calm. Don’t overexcite your child about the dentist, and don’t tell them, “It’s not a big deal,” or, “It will only hurt a little.” Tone conveys stress level, and your child has been trained to pick up on your emotional undertones.
Bringing a comforting item from home can help your child feel in control of their surroundings. A blanket or favorite toy is soothing and can feel familiar and provide a distraction.
Pediatric Dentists Help Kids Feel Comfortable
If you started taking your child to the dentist as an infant or toddler, they’re no doubt familiar with routine dental appointments. Are you taking your child to your general dentist? Consider if that’s the best dentist for them. A pediatric dentist is trained to move more quickly and efficiently than a dentist who works on adults. They’re educated in (and after) dental school on the best ways to distract and keep kids still for their cleanings.
Additionally, pediatric dentists have offices designed with kids in mind! Colorfully painted walls, toys and age-appropriate music can also help your child feel like the dentist office is a fun, safe place.
Sometimes choosing a reward that your child can have after each dental visit can help ease their dental anxiety. Some pediatric dentists even offer their own rewards, allowing kids to choose an item from a treasure box after their exam. This positive reinforcement can help children develop positive feelings toward the dentist as they grow up.
Use Education To Empower Teenagers
Like adults, fear of pain is a major contributor to a teen’s dental anxiety. They also may be embarrassed about their dental health.
If your teen resists when it’s time for a dental appointment, use education to help them become comfortable. Talk to your teen about how they view the dentist. What are their expectations? What about the dentist makes him or her fearful? You may be surprised how much talking can help. Chances are there’s a misconception feeding their anxiety. If you’d don’t feel prepared to discuss this with your teenager, ask your dentist to. They can offer stories about other teens who’ve overcome their fear of dental appointments once they got to know their dentist.
Relaxation and breathing techniques can also be helpful at the dentist. Anxiety causes us to breathe in shorter, shallower breaths. This becomes stressful, especially when tools are taking up our mouth space. Calming this anxiety with deep, intentional breaths is an important skill that can help ease dental anxiety.
If all else fails, you may want to talk to your dentist about how advances in dental technology can help reduce your teenager’s dental anxiety. Cleanings and procedures can be virtually pain-free today because of numbing agents, advanced tool technology, and sedation.
Solutions for Parents with Dental Anxiety
Adults and teens often have some of the same fears about going to the dentist. Prevention and past experience are also important elements when addressing adult anxiety about the dentist. Brush and floss regularly, and avoid sugary foods and drinks. Make sure the dentist has as little as possible to do during the visit!
Additionally, if you’re avoiding the dentist because of a prior dental experience, study up on how dentistry has advanced since you last visited. With tool innovations and new technologies making an appointment virtually painless, it’s time to experience what the dentists of today can offer.
If your dental anxiety is triggered when your child visits the dentist, consider having a grandparent or friend take your child to their dental appointment. Your child won’t see you have a negative reaction to the dentist. This will keep their experience positive, upbeat, and, most of all, personal.
A positive, comfortable relationship with your dentist or your child’s dentist is extremely important to easing dental anxiety. Anxiety at any age can be eased when you’re comfortable with those who are taking care of your teeth.