As adults, we fondly look back on our childhood, when life was “easier and stress-free.” Being a child with little to no responsibility, lots of playtime, and no burden of counting calories sounds fantastic, but not entirely true for every child. No doubt that childhood is different from adulthood, but being a kid does carry some stress and anxiety. I can remember the absolute dread I felt every time I had to walk into the doctor’s office or dentist’s office. That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I’d rather be taking a math test right now, the awful fear of what might happen and how it might affect me is still all too real in my memory. There are children with a debilitating fear of the dentist or the doctor, and it is a genuine problem. It can seem like an overwhelming task to convince kids that those in the medical profession are only there to help them, not hurt them, but it is not a hopeless cause, and there are multiple ideas and ways to try. Let’s look at these fears and the anxiety they cause and how we can best help them conquer their fears and develop a good relationship with the doctors and dentists in their lives.
Dental Anxiety/Fear Of The Dentist
Having dental anxiety or actual fear of the dentist is quite common, more so than you might think. It is classified as a legitimate phobia, Dentophobia to be exact. Dentophobia is defined as the fear of visiting the dentist. It has been estimated that over 4.6 percent of women and 2.7 percent of men experience dentophobia. That fear had to begin somewhere, most likely in childhood. If your child is exhibiting signs that they may have dentophobia, here are some suggestions that can help ease and dissipate their fears:
- If your child is showing signs they are scared about a dental visit, or you perceive they may have a hard time at their dentist appointment, schedule a introduction visit with your child at the dentist’s office for them to meet everyone, say hi, and become familiar with how everything looks, and be introduced to the instruments used in the cleaning they will receive. The hygienist might even want to explain how they will clean their teeth on appointment day and let them see the dentist chair where they will sit. This way, your child knows exactly where they are going, who will be there, and what to expect. This meet and greet visit alone can reduce a child’s dental anxiety dramatically.
- As you help them brush their teeth at home, talk to them about their teeth and how important they are, why it is so essential to brush and floss and have routine dental appointments. Include the fact that dentists and hygienists are trained to especially clean their teeth and determine how well their teeth are growing, that their knowledge is special and that they know more about teeth and how to help us take care of ours. Regular dental visits are the best way for dentists to check out the health of our teeth, just like well check ups at their pediatrician’s office is the best way to see the health of our body.
- The day of the dental visit, let them take their favorite toy or stuffed animal to help with any uneasy feelings, and encourage them to ask questions they have about their teeth.
- Since a parent is always allowed back into the room with their child, you can work out “courage” words or phrases for you to tell them as the visit takes place, letting them know they are doing a great job and you are proud of them. Hearing your voice and encouragement is always a good fear buster.
- Pediatric dentistry practices are always great about knowing how to handle kids that have fears or anxiety about their dental visit. If your child is really struggling with dentophobia, a pediatric dental practice with a great, understanding pediatric dentist, is a great choice for you.
- Little ears are ALWAYS listening. Don’t let them hear you say anything negative about your experience with dental visits. This will only fuel their fear even more, sometimes it can put the idea in their head that they should be afraid. Only speak positive words about visiting the dentist when they are in the room, or anywhere within earshot of your voice.
- Let them come with you to your own dental visits (if they are able). Seeing you get your teeth cleaned with no fear or worry will help motivate them to want to come for their own turn.
- There are several good children’s books and videos about going to the dentist. Do a little research and find some that will appeal to your child and ease any dental anxiety they may have.
- For the children whose dentophobia is classified as extreme cases, there are practices that offer conscious sedation for visits (like laughing gas, for an example). That is something for you and your child’s doctor to decide. Those with extreme fears might do well by visiting a child therapist or child psychologist. Again, your child’s doctor will be the best advice to help you decide which is the best path for your child.
Doctor Anxiety/Fear Of The Doctor
Just as dentophobia (fear of the dentist) is a very real thing, so is iatrophobia which is fear of the doctor. To be quite honest, I’ve always had a touch of both. When it comes to doctors, it’s easy to understand children’s anxiety about going because many of their well visits involve getting shots. No one likes that! Educating children about how important doctors and dentists are to our overall health and well-being is key to helping kids overcome their fear of going to the doctor or dentist. A lot of the same steps we discussed in helping one overcome a child’s dental anxiety can also help with anxiety of going to the doctor. Pediatric doctors and pediatric dentists specialize in treating and helping children, they are trained and experienced in helping kids who have fears about their medical visits. Finding one of each that does a good job of reaching and reassuring your child will make all the difference when it comes time for a visit. Doctor and dentist visits can turn into positive experiences for you child, sometimes even ones they look forward to with joy!
Healthy And Grateful
Doctors and dentists are here to help us, to enhance our health and make our bodies healthier, and to help us live long, productive lives. The key is to start teaching our children that very useful fact at an early age. We would do well as adults to remind ourselves too. Those men and women in the medical field have studied long and hard and sacrificed much to help us become healthy and well. We owe them our gratitude and the respect they deserve, and our children will learn to feel that way and respond that way by watching our actions and hearing our words. Let our words and actions help them to show gratitude and respect, both which will gladly replace fear.
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