New experiences for children can be either an exciting or a scary experience, including visiting the dentist. Regular checkups are a part of helping children grow into healthy adults, which means it’s not an appointment to miss. Appointments will go smoothly if children never learn to fear the dentist in the first place, and as the dentist, there are a few methods to help to keep tucked away.
1. Partner with the Parent
Note this isn’t uniting against the child. Rather, emphasize teamwork with the parent or guardian in order to learn their child’s unique needs. If the child is anxious, the parent or guardian may have strategies to help them relax and cope with unfamiliar situations. Refrain from sounding territorial or exceedingly medical over their child’s needs. If they can see that their parent or guardian is smiling and comfortable with you, then they can learn by example.
2. Take the Time for Niceties
Yes, you’re a dentist. It’s your job. But it could also be what causing them anxiety. Try introducing yourself and asking about their shirt, toy, what they’re watching, or if they have pets without your mask on. Let them see you smile and put them at ease before covering your face where they won’t be able to see your expressions.
Refraining from getting right to the exam can help them feel more comfortable with you, the person putting strange instruments into their mouth. Dentistry can be a weird idea for children; it’s a weird one for adults often, too.
3. Use Kid-Friendly Words
It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon of every day work as a dentist. But these technical terms may be what’s causing them stress. Having an arsenal of kid-friendly alternative words can help you put them at ease and maybe even bring some giggles to the appointment. You can even gamify it by getting your team involved and creating an entire environment around your young patients to create an experience like non other.
4. Offer a distraction
There won’t always be an opportunity for them to have a toy in the chair, but making distraction a priority as a practice can help. TV or a movie is a common choice, and can keep them still, but there are other options, too. If they were playing with a toy in the waiting room, it may be possible to let them hold it for the appointment, too. (This may not be an option in all situations, but it’s something to consider.)
An alternative only requires their attention: visualization. Ask them to think about their favorite memory; it could be a vacation, a play date, or anything they enjoyed. Asking them questions can help them remember what they ate, their favorite ride, or who they were with.
5. Emphasize Positive-Reinforcement
So we all know patients don’t floss enough. But with children, a simple piece of advice can tear them down. Instead of “Try to brush a little better, but your teeth are looking good”, try “Your teeth look wonderful! Let’s keep them clean with your great brushing skills!” They’ll hear that they’re doing a good job, but also that brushing is a good habit. (This should be a habit for any patients, not just the small ones!)
Using these techniques may make appointments longer, but it’s worth it. Your patients will feel more at ease with the experience, and you’re building a lifelong relationship with the family. The child may even want to come back. Dentistry is about more than cleaning teeth. It’s about helping people live healthier lives, and this begins with minimizing a child’s dental anxiety.