My Approach to Modern Pediatric Dentistry
How do you make children less anxious about going to the dentist? A child’s first visit to the family dentist actually begins at home. Many adults feel anxiety just thinking about a visit to the family dentist due to past negative experiences. However, dentistry, especially pediatric dentistry, has come a long way in the past 20 years and we have made great strides to make the experience as positive and pain-free as possible. There is a lot that can be done to make a child’s first visit to the dentist stress-free.
Kids are not innately afraid of the dentist. It is a learned behavior. It is often learned in the home through subtle cues from Mom and Dad or an older sibling. Some of my younger patients have even become anxious prior to getting treatments that are non-invasive, like an initial consultation for Invisalign braces. If parents are optimistic and positive about the upcoming dental visit, kids will pick up on that. So, parents need to try to put their fears aside for their kids. Just one of many sacrifices we make for our kids!
It is essential to make the first dental visit by a child successful. Unless there is an acute dental situation, I try to slow down the visit and explain in easily understandable terms what I plan to do and get the child to agree to the dentistry performed. I tell, then show, then do the procedure. Sometimes I will set up a mirror so the child can see what’s happening. If the child is old enough, explaining the theory behind the procedure, or going over the x-rays and intra-oral camera images can engage the child’s imagination and make it seem like something exciting (e.g. “science”) is happening rather than a experience that they just have to bear.
We generally recommend that a parent come into the treatment room with the child. It is a more comforting experience to have Mom or Dad in the room and often serves to relax the child. All of my treatment rooms have seating for parents. Parents generally know what will trigger a child’s fear or what will calm their child and that information is very valuable to my staff and I. Very young children are often more cooperative if they are sitting on Mom or Dad’s lap during the visit.
The actual visit starts in the waiting room of the dental office. I designed my waiting room to be comfortable, very kid-friendly and to feel like a residential living room rather than a medical waiting room with its spare, medical feeling. There are toys and games and a lego wall for kids to play with while Mom or Dad are filling out the necessary paperwork. My assistant will come out, greet the parent and child and bring them into the treatment room. We always have kid-friendly television shows already playing on the screen on the patient monitor in the treatment room.
In addition to reviewing any pertinent medical information with the parent before the treatment, I also ask parents about any behavioral issues and any questions the child had for his/her parents prior to the treatment. I also try to get a sense of the level or source of any anxiety my young patient had before arriving for his/her appointment.