Make dentist visits less scary for your child

by Julie Snyder

dentist not scaryIt's the season for ghouls and ghosts, witches and skeletons and all types of things that could frighten your preschooler. For some kids, a trip to the dentist is just as scary.

When you mention a dental appointment, does your child look as apprehensive as if you'd turned into a scary monster or suggested navigating the haunted house alone...on a dark, foggy night?

Saying "boo" to the dental fears

Being anxious at the dentist seems a perfectly natural reaction for a young child. It can be a strange place full of unfamiliar sights, unexpected sounds, strange smells and masked people. Here's how you can make dentist visits less scary for your child.

Find a child-friendly practice

A friendly waiting room: When you first walk in the door, you can recognize a practice that reaches out to kids. It will have a fun waiting room -- one with lots of games, toys and book. It may even have a huge aquarium.

"Our dentist's office had older hand-held video games. My son could play them while he was waiting and take it right into the exam room. He was so busy enjoying the game that he forgot he had been afraid," Brian says.

Explanations that your child understands. Look for a clinic that uses the Tell-Show-Do technique. Before a new procedure or before using a new instrument or material, they'll tell your child what these things are, show them how they work and then do the procedure.

They'll have other methods to distract children such as televisions in the ceiling over the treatment chairs with individual headphones.

If none of these methods seem effective, your dentist may suggest the use of nitrous oxide or recommend an oral sedative to help your child relax.

In a very small percentage of cases, they may recommend that a child have medication administered intravenously by an anesthesiologist. The dental work is complete while the child's completely asleep.

Let your child know what to expect

Pediatric Dentistry in San Jose, California, a child-friendly practice, helps parents get ready for their child's first visit. The instructions include:

Don't give your child too much information ahead of time. Just let them know what they are going to do in very simple terms.

• They will count your teeth
• They will brush your teeth
• Nothing they will do will hurt or bother you
• The doctor is going to take a look. If anything bothers you, you can let the doctor know if there is anything that is bothering them they can let the doctor know
• We only do visit twice a year

Be there for the first appointment. Mom or dad can be there for the first visit. Because it can be confusing when a child receives directions from several people, take on the role of silent observer. By the next visit, your child will be ready to head into the exam room solo.

Tips for the anxious parent

Kids have radar for spotting your emotions. If you're nervous about the visit, then the less you say the better.

If you feel you must say something, be as general as possible and reassure your child that the dentist will always explain and show you everything he intends to do before ever doing it.

Have fun going through it with your child. The reaction to this first visit to the dentist may pleasantly surprise you. Many kids are completely at ease because they don't know to be worried.

Does your child look forward to visiting the dentist? What factors do you think helped scare the fear factor away?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.