I listened to a parent who told me about a discussion at home as to when should they first bring their kids to see a dentist. Her husband argued that they shouldn’t bring their kids in too early because kids will be scared of a dentist when they are too young.
When I put myself in their shoes, I felt that it was completely understandable why parents would think that way, especially if they had a bad dental experience in the past themselves. This prompted me to write this blog in an attempt to demystify the topic of child dental fear and when their first dental visit should be.
To set up the good dental experience for the rest of your child’s life, it helps to understand where the fear is coming from. It always amazed me how children who have never been to a dentist can be completely scared about coming to the clinic. Fear of the unknown and anxiety is understandable and can be managed. Extreme phobia – not so much.
If children have never been to the dentist, usually they will have to form ideas or the concept of dentistry from people around them. Parents have the most influence on their children. It could be the simple things they do or say relating to dentistry, some innocently and some deliberately.
Children are very perceptive and pick up cues quickly when they see their parents being nervous visiting the dentist. For example, parents who left their children alone in surgery on his/her first visit because they hate being in the dental surgery, didn’t give their children a lot of confidence on what they are about to experience.
Saying things like “it won’t HURT” or “they won’t use NEEDLES” subconsciously associates dentistry to the exact words we don’t want them to. I had a parent who jokingly said “it’s going to hurt like h***” to his son right before a tooth extraction. Even though it was meant as a joke, it was completely unnecessary.
Another good example was an 18 year old boy who had been coming for dental work for many months with no hassle. On the day he was scheduled for root canal treatment, I noticed he was more nervous than usual. He had the procedure done with no issue. After the appointment, he revealed to me that his friends in class had been telling him that root canal treatment hurts a lot, which was contrary to what he found. This demonstrated that trust takes time to build and a second to lose.
Sometimes fear can be related to the past events. A simple association of toothache and dentist is sometimes enough to deter children because they only remember us when they are in pain. Maybe it’s non-dental related. If a child doesn’t like going to see a doctor because of past vaccine injections they might be hesitant to come and see the “tooth doctor”.
As pointed out, parents have the primary influence on their children. This is why eradicating dental fear takes time over generations. Parents pass on their fear to their children and grandchildren. While modern and preventive dentistry moves forward, children with dental phobia remain and it doesn’t have to be this way. In the next article, I will explore when the first dental visit should be and how this significantly influences your children for the rest of their lives.
To your healthy smile
Supa Dental, Melton