Parents who are afraid to visit the dentist may pass the same fear to their children, possibly keeping them from getting routine dental check-ups that are important to promote healthy teeth and a lifetime of good oral health habits.
That’s one of the key findings from a survey of children’s oral health conducted on behalf of Delta Dental, the nation’s leading dental benefits provider. On average, the survey found that nearly 30 percent of children are afraid to visit the dentist. But when their parents also fear the dentist, that number jumped to almost 40 percent. Conversely, just 24 percent of children whose parents are unafraid of the dentist were still fearful of dental visits themselves.
“Parents who fear visiting the dentist should try to keep those feelings to themselves to avoid passing them on to their children,” said Mark L. Waltzer, D.M.D., F.A.G.D., a participating dentist with Delta Dental. “It’s important that the parent or caregiver responsible for taking children to the dentist remains relaxed and calm.”
The top reason parents say their children are afraid to visit the dentist is due to painful or sensitive teeth (17 percent). Other explanations include the noise and smell (11 percent), drills and dental equipment (10 percent), and shots and needles (9 percent).
3 Tips to Reduce Fear of the Dentist
During National Mental Health Month, Dr. Waltzer offers parents and caregivers three simple tips to help children feel more comfortable in the dentist’s chair. Additional tips may be found in the Delta Dental video, “Afraid of Going to the Dentist?”
Start young: It’s recommended that children visit the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth — and no later than their first birthday. Starting at a young age allows children and parents to establish trust with a dentist and begin a routine of regular dental visits.
Keep it simple and positive: If children ask questions before a visit to the dentist, avoid using words that could make them scared, such as drill, shot or filling, or counseling them that it won’t hurt, since they often aren’t aware it could hurt in the first place. Instead, explain that the dentist is simply going to check their smile and count their teeth. Try not to discuss any negative experience that you might have had so your child can form his or her own opinion through personal experience.
Call ahead: Tell the dentist ahead of time that your child may be anxious about the visit. Most pediatric dental offices will have toys or music that children can focus on instead of the appointment itself, helping them relax and making a trip to the dentist a fun and enjoyable experience.
“Parents need to help children understand why visiting the dentist is so important and help make their visits as comfortable as possible,” Dr. Waltzer said. “Kids who have negative experiences at the dentist may be less inclined to make regular visits as teenagers and grown adults.”
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