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How to make your child enjoy the dentist

Being afraid of the dentist is a natural tendency for most young children.

Sharp objects, buzzing instruments, prickly utensils and unpleasant tastes – look, we all hated it growing up.

Though dentistry has become as palatable and painless as possible in the last few decades, children may still have some level of hesitation each time they enter the dentist office.

So let's look at a few ways you as a parent can try to minimise that fear, and maybe even get them to enjoy themselves.

(fingers crossed)

Avoid using descriptors that indicate pain

One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make when discussing a trip to the dentist with their child is to unintentionally use words and phrases that correspond to unpleasant experiences.

The following words may be no-nos:

  • Hurt
  • Pain
  • Pointy
  • Sting
  • Shot
  • Drill
  • Buzz

If you prime your child with these sorts of words, you're preemptively preparing them for a bad experience. Even if the trip goes well overall, the initial trepidation could be enough to cause undue stress for you, your child and the dentist.

You should still be honest with your child in terms of why you're going in the first place and what they should expect – just don't go out of your way to over-explain the specific details. They don't necessarily need to know that scraping and sticking may be involved, or that their gums may be sensitive.

Play pretend at home first

A great way to prepare your child for the dentist is to do a trial run at home beforehand.

They're already familiar with brushing their teeth and maybe rinsing each day, so your children likely understand the basic premise of who a dentist is and why it's important they go to one every so often.

What they may not be as comfortable with, though, are all the specific instruments and steps that might be involved during a formal visit to the dentist.

Practise at home by having them lie down on the floor and keep their mouth open while you poke around their gum line with your forefinger. Count their teeth aloud so they understand you're checking each and every tooth. Have them smile into a mirror, too, so that they can see that nothing big happened.

You can allow your child to mirror this mock exercise with a stuffed animal as well, so that they feel empowered and knowledgeable of the process.

Be close by in case you're needed

During the visit, defer to the dentist and their team. They have been trained to interact with fussy or fearful children, so they have plenty of experience managing their expectations and keeping things lighthearted.

In some cases, though, your child may reach out to you, look for you in the room or question if you can hold their hand. Stay close by to comfort and reassure them that everything is fine and that the visit is nearly complete.

You might even be able to read a dental storybook or show them pictures while they're under the lights – whatever you need to do to occupy their mind and time, so that the dentist can quickly and safely finish the job.

Reward them afterward (spontaneously)

Depending on your parenting style, you might offer some tangible reward to get your child to go to the dentist. If so, you can choose for yourself what that reward should be.

If not, you can still encourage and reward your child after if the visit was particularly harrowing or stressful. The dentist will likely have stickers and a grab bag to hand over after the visit, and you can take your child to a movie or to the park as well.

The key is for the child to understand that going to the dentist may not be bad at all – or that it, at minimum, is merely a temporary inconvenience that they need to fret over in advance.

If you're uncertain how to broach the subject of a dentist visit with your child, it's always best to get them used to the process when they're young – and early visits can help.

You can even go to the dentist for a "pre-appointment" so that your child can meet the dentist, look around and grab some stickers. That way, they're not going into the office completely unaware or afraid.

To speak with the team at City Dentists, call 04 978 4964 or book an appointment online.

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