Going to the dentist can be stressful for everyone, but it’s especially true for kids. The whirr of a drill mixing with the fear of having a cavity; it’s pretty harrowing when you don’t know what’s going on. When nearly 20 percent of children have a fear of the dentist, it’s certainly a situation that needs to be handled properly. When a child is stressed, it not only makes their appointment unpleasant for them, it makes it difficult for the dentist or assistant to complete the work needed for the appointment. We’ve compiled some tips to help a little one avoid becoming overwhelmed when they’re getting their teeth done. When you’re looking to reward well behaved kiddos, check out Treasure Tower World!
Children are curious by nature. Everything is new to them at these early stages, so they have a lot of questions. One of the biggest causes of stress in anyone’s life is fear of the unknown. A fear of the unknown mixed with an overactive imagination combine to make the most horrifying idea of the dentist possible. The easiest way to avoid this anxiety is simply by letting the child know exactly what’s going to be happening in the procedure. Describe the noises, the feelings, even the taste of the fluoride that’s going to be used; the more information a child has before the procedure, the more prepared they are to handle it. Depending on the age of the child, you may need to act out the procedure so they understand what to expect non-verbally. Then, once you have made sure the child is on the same page, they’ll be ready for the procedure to begin.
If a child is visibly anxious, or tells you they are stressed, there are some relaxation techniques that can work quite well. Many kids have had positive reactions to something as simple as a deep breathing exercise. Others have found success blowing bubbles, which can also provide a distraction. In case those steps don’t work, you can try the more in-depth process of progressive muscle relaxation. You’ll walk the child through systematically tensing up and relaxing each muscle group. If you’re unsure about properly walking the child through this process, recorded versions are available that can instruct them.
One of the most effective ways to handle dental anxiety is just distracting them from the procedure. There are many ways to effectively distract them that you can consider. If the procedure allows it, something as small as letting a kid hold onto their favorite toy can redirect their focus enough for a cleaning to be completed. Try starting a conversation with the child. Ask them about their summer vacation, how school is going, or what their favorite TV show is. This gets them thinking about things not related to the dentist and allows them to ease their nerves a bit.
Another option for distraction that clinicians have reported works well is visualization. Ask the child to visualize and imagine a nice moment. This could be something like a recent trip to the zoo or a favorite birthday party. In order for this to work properly, the child needs to really feel like they are going through this positive memory again. To facilitate this, a clinician may need to ask questions to help the child build in the details of the memory. TV, movies, and video games are all fantastic distractors as well, but will only work if the child is interested in their subjects. Having a wide variety for them to choose from will maximize the effectiveness of the distraction.
Though it’s not always possible to have a parent in the room while the procedure is going on, nobody knows this kid as well as their parent. They will have a better idea of what approach will help their child the most, things to avoid, and even specifics about the fear the child may not be comfortable sharing. A parent is a great example for children to follow, so consider employing them to demonstrate the procedure for the child. This will give them an understanding of what to expect while showing them how to act through the procedure.
If this is executed properly, it can inspire future good behavior past the current day’s procedure. Consider using praise and small, but tangible, rewards as incentives for cooperating and being brave. It’s important the clinician is genuine when offering the positive reinforcement for it to be effective. Don’t hesitate to ask the parent what type of reinforcement works best for their child, as everyone is different.
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