Pediatric dental anxiety is very common among young children, and oftentimes parents aren't sure how to manage the situation. To help you help your child, consider implementing the three strategies below that will ensure their next trip to the dentist goes as smoothly as possible:
Take Your Child to the Dentist from an Early Age
Taking your child to the dentist is a bit like taking them to the hairdresser. Initially, they will have a bad reaction to this unusual procedure and will likely get upset. However, over time, they will become more comfortable with their surroundings and realize that there is really nothing scary about having work carried out.
That's why it is extremely important to familiarize your child with the dentist from an early age. Oftentimes, it is easy to submit to your child's initial reaction and avoid taking them to the dentist until they are in dire need of treatment. However, taking this easy way out is a sure-fire way to build your child's anxiety, as they haven't been exposed to a dental clinic early in life.
As such, you should take your child for regular checkups and maintenance work. This will allow them to become comfortable in dealing with a dentist through routine, non-invasive procedures. Over time, their confidence will grow to a point where they are so comfortable with the dental clinic that they won't be scared when they require a filling or extraction.
Understand Your Child's Triggers
Panic attacks rarely happen spontaneously. Rather, they occur in response to an external trigger that forces the body into "panic mode" as a form of defense. Therefore, in order to help your child manage their anxiety while visiting the dentist, it's important to understand what is actually triggering this response.
The most common cause of panic attacks at the dentist is an underlying fear of the procedures carried out. This may be due to a negative past experience that your child relates to the dental clinic itself; however, it is more commonly due to a lack of understanding in the equipment used. Therefore, speak to your child's dentist and ask them to explain the equipment that will be used during your child's procedure in order to build familiarity and comfort when in the chair.
Another aspect of the dental clinic that may induce fear in your child is the thought of a painful procedure. Whether it is having a filling installed or removing a damaged tooth, there is a common misconception with young children that all dental procedures are a painful experience. Again, asking your dentist to fully inform your child prior to undergoing any procedure will help to manage their anxiety.
If your child's panic attacks continue despite this, you can ask the dentist what alternative treatments are available. Nowadays, many practices adopt what is known as "gentle dentistry", where less intrusive procedures are used to carry out routine tasks. By making use of less invasive technology, your child will feel more comfortable when visiting their dentist.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
This may seem a little counter-intuitive, as it isn't you who's going to the dentist; however, children's brains are like a sponge and they will pick up on any apprehension you may have when taking them to the dentist.
Therefore, your best strategy in managing their anxiety is to ensure you remain upbeat and positive at all times. Rather than framing the trip to the dentist in a negative light, try to make the experience as fun and light-hearted as possible. Reframing the dental visit from having a tooth removed to something a child can relate to – such as making sure their teeth are all good for the tooth fairy – will avoid your child attaching negative connotations to the experience.
Furthermore, avoid using trigger words such as "pain" and "hurt" at all costs. If your child goes into their appointment with these words bouncing around in their head, they will quickly become overwhelmed which, may trigger a panic attack. By using only positive words and reframing the experience in a good light, you will significantly reduce the chance of your child suffering from anxiety when they next visit the dentist.