Dentophobia...we tend to make light of it; joke about our apprehension about dental appointments, or our dread for an annual cleaning. But have you ever dealt with someone who actually suffers from dentophobia? What would you do if it were your own child?
My sons started visiting the same dentist my husband had been going to since he was a child when they were toddlers. They'd watch their father get his teeth cleaned, then hop into the chair while the hygienist would "ooh and aah" at their tooth brushing prowess and then hand them a treat. By the time that dentist announced her well-earned retirement, they were old pros and easily transferred to the new practice.
It was a very different experience for my daughter. She's always been more apprehensive about all sorts of medical visits. Hates her annual check-up, despises her visits to the dermatologist, screamed her head off at the visits...but she got through them all. But dentist visits were different; she'd cry hysterically from the moment she arrived in the waiting room. There was no rational reason, but her fear was real. The dentist would try reasoning with her, joking with her or even negotiating with her. As parents we felt almost powerless, but the dentist reassured us that many children were like this, but that eventually she'd outgrow it.
At her check-up after her sixth birthday, I thought I might lose my mind. I finally got her into the chair using as much physical force as I could. The hygienist spoke calmly to her, pleaded with her and finally pried her mouth open so that she, the dentist and I caught a fleeting glimpse of dental decay. Things had gotten out of hand, and now my baby girl needed serious dental work.
The guilt, shame and stress that I felt after this visit was immense, but I've learned a ton from the experience and feel very qualified to offer advice on how to deal with your child's fear of the dentist.
JUST DEAL WITH IT
Dental hygiene is not something that you can choose to be lax about. Teeth need to be looked after and the fact that my daughter's dentist wasn't able to complete a proper exam or cleaning by her sixth birthday meant that she needed extraordinary work.
CONSIDER PEDIACTRIC DENTISTRY
Pediatric dentists deal only with children, so they know how to deal with them. From the TV shows in the waiting rooms to the size of the dental appliances; kids' mouths are their business. Chances are they'll have special techniques that your own dentist may not be quick to offer your children (think laughing gas and special seating so that your child can sit on your lap during procedures).
Our family dentist is wonderful. She's laid-back and soft-spoken and this works so well for my sons. My daughter, however, just never clicked with her or the hygienists in her practice. They were all almost "too nice." Rylan needed someone who would look her in the eye, tell her what was going to get done in a fairly forceful voice and then go about doing it in a no-nonsense manner. Find a dentist whose personality works for your dentophobic child.
COMMUNICATE AS APPROPRIATE
For a while I tried preparing my daughter for appointments by talking about them ahead of time. I know that personally, I like to work things through in my head with lots of notice. I'd point out the date on the calendar, ask if she had questions about the appointment and mention it casually in the weeks leading up to the visit. Finally, my daughter asked me to stop talking about it. It made me feel better to communicate, but it stressed her out. Next time I only told her about her next appointment a few hours before it was scheduled. She was just as upset...but for less time.
DISGUISE BRIBERY AS A REWARD
Each appointment (and with the dental work she needed, there were many) was difficult and challenging for me...and for my daughter. I'm not keen on bribery as an effective parenting tool, but when I mentioned to her one day that I was so proud of how she'd been doing at her dentist appointments that I'd like to celebrate by buying her a little toy she'd been asking for, a light went off. Having something to look forward to after the appointment helped her.
We are almost a full year past that last shocking dental visit. I've learned so much about how to get my daughter to a point where she is comfortable going to the dentist, sitting by herself in the chair and having her teeth cleaned. I'm proud of myself for helping her to get there, but I am even more proud of her for facing her fears.
Share your tips and tricks for making trips to the dentist a good experience for your children. Leave me a comment below and you will be entered for your chance to win one of three LISTERINE® SMART MOUTH KIDS $1,000 cash prizes that can be used towards your child's education! Come back next week for your last chance to enter the contest.
Submission to the Contest Weekly Blog Comment Period closes at 8:59 am, on Monday, August 27, 2012.