Everyone wants their child to have a good experience in the dental office, even if it is for something that we would rather not have to get done, like a filling or an extraction (pulling a tooth). We want to prepare them so that everything goes well. Sometimes, good intentions lead to opposite reactions. In other words, sometimes well meaning parents cause more anxiety for the child.
Here is a list of things NOT to tell your child before dental work:
“You are going to get a shot to make your tooth numb”
I know you don’t want your child blindsided by being on the receiving end of an injection. But you have to trust me on this one, its better that they don’t know. I’m very careful about making sure that the shot is the best experience it can be. I’ve had kids on occasion even laughing and smiling while unknowingly getting a shot.
The key is letting the topical anesthetic kick in, distraction, euphemisms and, of course, not letting them see the needle ;). If the child expects a shot, it makes my job sooo much more difficult. They are nervous, expecting pain from everything we do. They are distrustful, that I will trick them with one. They ask if they are getting a shot, and since I never lie to a child, I have to try to work around it with euphemisms or I lose them completely. Because a lot of times when they hear they are getting a shot, they lose it and a child in a tantrum is impossible to do dentistry on. It’s too dangerous.
“If you eat that candy, the dentist will have to drill on your tooth”
I understand that you want to try anything to get your child to not get a cavity, especially if you have a little one with a big sweet tooth, but please don’t make me the bad guy. (This has psychological implications for me as well, lol, but I digress) You don’t want your child to think of the dentist as a horrible person who restricts yummy candy and inflicts pain. You want to have a child who will follow preventive maintenance by going to the dentist and have her teeth for life. One alternative in the same vein, but doesn’t throw dentists under the bus, is to say that sugar bugs will get big on her teeth and make holes to live in. Still not pleasant, but better.
“I hate going to the dentist”
I’ve seen it all too much that a parent’s dental anxiety is transferred to the child. Even if you don’t expressly say that you hate getting dental work, the child can easily pick up on this. They can sense when you are nervous or worried. This puts them at unease, as they expect something bad is about to happen to them. If you know that this is you, maybe you can have the child go to the office with your husband or wife. Or you can prepare yourself by being aware of how calm you are and what you are projecting. If you come to my office, I’ll have some lavender or Stress Away essential oil (Young Living) diffusing in the room for both you and your child.
How to prepare your child for a dental visit:
Read a book about a favorite character going to the dentist, just be sure to screen it for any shot or drill references beforehand. It is good for the child to expect weird noises this time, so feel free to mention the strange sounds (suction, “tooth shower” is what I call the handpiece or drill). You can mention that the tooth is going to take a nap. It doesn’t need to be too extensive, as I will explain everything I do and show them beforehand. Going into too much detail will only confuse and overwhelm them.
I hope this will lead to better dental appointments for all my young patients, as my goal is to have patients who love going to the dentist!