February is Dental Health Month, and if you fear the dentist, chances are your child does too. Let's face it. No one really wants to lay there with someone poking at their gums, bright light in their face, drool down their chin, and a person leaning in extremely close. Talk about a nightmare for young children.
But as parents, it's our job to ignore our own anxiety about the dentist, and help our children see a trip to the dentist as a good thing, because it is. Dental health is important because it affects our entire bodies, including our hearts. Making it fun for kids will help them continue to go to the dentist throughout their lives.
Use the Right Words
Avoid words like "hurt" or "pain" when describing a routine checkup. With the best of intentions, we often tell our children that something won't hurt. What this does is place the idea of pain in the child's mind. The simple thought of pain is enough to make a child panic once she is in the dental chair.
Reward Good Behavior
Don't bribe your child to behave at the dentist. Simply talk about the basics beforehand without going into detail. Then, if and only if your child gets through the dentist visit smoothly, celebrate together by going to the park or buying her favorite treat. If she doesn't have any cavities, make a huge deal out of it by praising how well she cares for her teeth.
Buy Fun Toothbrushes
Kids love fun stuff. It doesn't even matter if it's only a toothbrush, as long as it has their favorite character on it. Use this to your advantage by buying your child fun tooth care items including toothbrushes and toothpaste. Make good dental hygiene fun at home and it will hopefully translate to the dental chair.
Before you go to the dentist, play pretend dentist with your child. Take turns being the dentist and peering into each other's mouths. Tell your child how good her teeth look and allow for nothing but a fun time. If your child doesn't want to play the game, then skip it. It might end up making her more anxious.
The younger your child goes to the dentist, the more comfortable she will be. Young kids adapt a lot easier to new situations, while preschoolers may have a tougher time and exhibit more anxiety.
Find a Kid-Friendly Dentist
Don't take your child to a dentist who doesn't have experience with children. She won't know what to do if your child gets upset, which may make the dentist upset, which will make your child even more upset. Plus, dentists who work with children usually have stickers and fun items to give to kids in addition to knowing how to make them feel comfortable.
Your child may act out no matter what steps you take to ensure she has fun at the dentist. It's OK. Just follow the dentist's lead. She deals with children on a daily basis and, therefore, she may have some tricks up her sleeve to help your child relax.
No matter how tough it is for you, teaching your child that the dentist is good for her health — and fun — is an important task. Her initial feelings about the dentist will stay with her for life, and a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums will keep you both smiling.