You might think that the first visit to your Chermside Dentist is all about checking your child’s teeth (and of course that’s part of it), but in some ways the psychological and relationship building component of these first encounters are more important than the service itself.  Any good family or children’s dentist will tell you that these first moments can determine how children handle appointments and procedures for years to come.

If you are an adult who has a phobia or fear of the dentist, there’s a big possibility it can be traced to one (or a multitude) of these early moments going wrong. And while it may not seem life changing being afraid of the dentist, there are bigger implications. For many children, a dentist visit is the first exposure to any sort of medical specialist. Bad experiences in these early stages can affect their attitudes toward other medical work down the track, and set them down paths towards phobias and mental health issues.

It is so important that you arm both yourself and your child with the tools you need for things to go right.

What can help me get things right?

Obviously, a good dentist (who is a good fit for your child’s needs) is always tremendously helpful.  It also helps a lot for both you and your child to have a good understanding of how to take care of their teeth both through hygiene routines and diet. But when it comes to that first visit going smoothly, the best thing you can do is get them ready. And while every child is different, there are a few things that work for most kids.

The Power of Play

Kids are extremely responsive to role-playing and imagination based games. We have the unique opportunity to share these moments with them so why not use play to help introduce those positive messages?

  • Set up a “dentist visit” for their favourite toys at home. Try to focus on what is appropriate to your child’s situation (so use mirrors and tooth brushes and focus on “cleaning” and “checking” the toys teeth if this is a first dental check). If and only if your child expresses that their toy is “scared” or expressing negative emotions, get the child to be “the dentist” or “the parent” and help them explore this in a positive way so the child can reassure their toy (and help create their own coping mechanisms)
  • Watch videos and read books of their favourite popular characters going to the dentist. Always screen these FIRST to ensure the content is positive and helpful. Most content these days can be found easily with a search engine online.
  • Smart phones can be really useful for helping a child explore their own teeth. Get them to take a photo in “selfie” mode with your help and you can count their teeth together. [Photos can also be extremely helpful if you have something specific you want to show the dentist at the visit and you aren’t sure your child will be overly compliant on the day]

Let Them Lead the Conversation

It is paramount that your child feels in control during their appointment at our Chermside Dentist. Imagine how you would feel going to get a blood test and the doctor never speaks to you directly or lets you speak to them. This also goes for your child’s thoughts about the dentist at home – let them be in charge of how they think, feel and respond.

  • Be aware of your own fears and avoid projecting them onto how your child must feel. Ask them what they think and feel about going to the dentist and meet this with validation and support, but never assume they are worried. Avoid phrases such as “don’t be scared”, “this won’t hurt”, “you are so brave” as they usually will offset a negative response. Let your child own and initiate their emotions.
  • Help them feel they have something to say ahead of time. Write down or practice what questions they might ask the dentist – Their favourite colour? Their pet’s name? Remind them that the dentist is a person just like them.
  • The BIGGEST one. When your child meets the dentist let the dentist greet and speak with them directly. Sometimes you may even feel a little left out. You can probably answer questions a lot faster than your child, but most of the time it is not the answers that are important but that your child feels empowered to speak directly with this new person and form a connection of trust. The dentist almost certainly can see their age on a medical history slip – the reason they are asking is to get your child responding. Try not to call out answers for them.

Positivity and Familiarity

One of the best ways to make things seem more positive is to speak positively about them! Show you are excited! Make it fun! You can even make the experience a bit less foreign by allowing some familiar elements to guide them through or some of what you’ve prepared at home.

  • Always use positive words where possible. Rather than “it’s NOT ‘scary’”, try “this IS ‘new’ and ‘exciting’.”  Encourage positive language and an environment of support to ensure that. This may mean facing some of your own habits and fears (internally) to speak a little differently to what you are used to about this particular subject.
  • Encourage them to bring along relevant things they are familiar with such as their favourite toy (that can visit too) and/or their toothbrush. Often, using their own toothbrush with the dentist is a great gateway to introducing other dental tools.
  • Be selective of what family members are present. While a supportive confident older sibling can (sometimes) be a great help (especially if they know the dentist), a sibling or parent that is negative about the experience can be detrimental. If your child seems confident about the experience, they are often more responsive when they can be the focus of attention.

What about after the appointment?

There is every reason you can continue with any or all of the suggestions above for future appointments. What is really important after any appointment (especially difficult ones and first ones) is to focus on what positive things happened. Pick 3 moments that seemed positive to your child (ie ‘the dentist had your friends name’, ‘your teeth looked so shiny!’, ‘you loved that sticker didn’t you?’) and remind them of those moments on the travel back home. When they get back home, ask them to tell you (and other family members) what those things were by helping prompt those responses (i.e. Do you remember what the dentist gave you?). This should help cement some of those positive memories for next time.

Remember that your behaviours and reactions to the event are part of the memory too. If your child tried their best but couldn’t do something this time, remind them of the good things they did do and that they can try again next time.

Every child is different. Every family is different. Every dentist is different. There is no single rule that works for everyone. But when we all work together, these milestones can be wonderful moments for the children we collectively care so much about.

Keep those smiles sparkling!

Dr Amy