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5 Tips for Parents When Going to Child's Dental Appointment

It’s no secret that dental appointments can be stressful. Things can become especially nerve-wracking when it comes to your children’s dental appointments. As a dental hygienist working in a pediatric office for the last five and a half years, I have been fortunate enough to serve many pediatric patients. Based on my personal experience, I have put together some tips for parents to help keep their child’s dental appointments fun and relaxing for the whole family.

Here are some tips for parents to keep in mind at your child’s next dental appointment:

Mirror the Language: Dental professionals are experienced in speaking in child-friendly terms that help the child understand the procedure but are careful to not inflict fear. When a child directly asks if something is going to hurt, we know exactly how to respond to help put the child at ease. An experienced dental professional will give the child ways to communicate if they need to ask a question or take a break. We understand that giving the child some control over the appointment will alleviate some of the anxiety they may be feeling. The verbiage that the dental provider will use during the appointment will be tailored to fit the needs/age/and vocabulary of your child. Although parents have good intentions, they can sometimes make dental procedures more complicated than they really are. In an effort to try to make the child feel at ease, parents will often say “Don’t worry, you’re not getting a shot” when most children didn't even have that worry on their radar to begin with. Now the child is even more anxious because the word “shot” was introduced into the equation. Let the dental professional explain the procedures to the child using age-appropriate language. If you’re confused about which terms are appropriate, ask your dental provider prior to the appointment. Many dental offices will have resources for parents on the terminology they use at the appointments.

Don’t Tell Your Child About Your Negative Dental Experiences: Dentistry has come a long way over the years. The memories of the negative dental experiences you had as a child may not be the best stories to share with your children. Many offices now use a variety of behavior modification techniques to create a positive experience for young children. If parents have dental anxiety from their previous dental experiences, this anxiety can unknowingly be passed on to the child from the parent and make the appointment less than enjoyable for the whole family. Be aware of your role in providing the best dental experience possible for your child.

Let Us Build Relationships: Building a trusting relationship with your child is one of our biggest priorities as a long-term, dental provider. In order to develop that relationship, we need the right kind of environment to treat and speak with your child. It is wonderful when parents get involved and ask questions during their child’s dental appointments. It provides the child and the parent an opportunity to learn more about the child’s oral care habits and shows that they are motivated to learn and to improve. It is important to get the perspective of the parent on how things are going at home with brushing and flossing to see what their concerns might be. However, building a relationship with the child does get difficult when a parent starts directing and taking over the appointment and not allowing the child to answer questions in their own words. Having a parent consistently “jump in” and answer all of the questions for the child makes it very difficult to see the child’s perspective. It also limits our ability to connect with the child on a personal level, see what their point of view is and find what motivates them.

Ask For Clarification: Treating your child is both an honor and a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly. If you’re ever confused about a procedure or don't understand the treatment that is proposed to you, ask for clarification. When the dental provider and the parent are on the same page, it helps keep the experience for the child a positive one. It is our job as dental professionals to educate and we thoroughly enjoy that part of our job. We can use x-rays, photos of inside the mouth and a variety of other visual aids to help you understand the treatment that is proposed. You should never feel embarrassed to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. Not only do we want the child to be happy but we also want the parent to feel comfortable and confident in the services that are provided.

Don’t Expect Perfection: Treating children never goes as expected and we are okay with that! When a child comes into the office, we want to provide a positive experience so the child isn't afraid to come back in next time. That might mean that the first appointment involves using a manual toothbrush and not using the special “spin brush” to polish their teeth. It’s important for parents to realize that we are seeking progress, not perfection. I often see parents that are clearly stressed when their child doesn't comply and doesn’t happily hop right up on the dental chair—we are okay with that! Don’t let it stress you out as a parent. We are flexible and know that with each visit that passes, we will be able to see them progress. Sometimes we will even find that children, as they get a little older and more aware of their surroundings, will even slightly get more apprehensive when they come back in six months, That is normal, too! Just give yourself a pat on the back as a parent and know that you are doing the very best for them by providing them consistent dental care…you are doing great!

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Sarah Lawrence,
Dental Hygienist, Myofunctional Therapist & Writer
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