Getting your child on the road of good dental healthSeptember 06, 2017
During the first week of Kindergarten, my daughter confidently walked herself to class, put her backpack on her hook and took her seat with the other excited 5-year-olds. But by the second week, she caught on that she was going to be there all day, all year long. By the third week, she flat out refused to get out of the car.
Leaving her, crying and breaking down, with her teacher was not how I wanted to start her school experience. Fortunately, I got a call from the school counselor, who said, “Lisa, don’t worry. The best thing you can do for your daughter is show her that you trust us, that you trust that she is where she is supposed to be, with people who will help her make it through. The worst thing you can do is freak out, because she is going to sense that.” I followed the counselor’s advice, and we made it through, but her words stuck with me, and I have repeated them to many parents in my office since that day.
As a dentist who examines a lot of children, I sometimes have to give parents bad news about their child’s dental condition. Some parents take that news in stride and some get visibly nervous. Perhaps they had a bad dental experience and have some dental anxiety of their own. It’s natural and normal to feel that way. We parents all want our kids to have a life with as little pain, fear and sadness as possible. When I see parents who seem nervous after they hear that more treatment is needed, I generally pull them aside and share the wisdom that my daughter’s school counselor gave to me. Stay calm, and show your child that you trust that they are with people who will help them make it through this.
Another tip I suggest is to select the one parent who is most calm to accompany that child to the filling appointment. It’s amazing to see how a child can behave completely differently just based on who is with them. If that isn’t an option, then we discuss if it is best for the parent to wait in the reception area rather than come back to the treatment room. If you don’t feel you can stay calm and relaxed, or if the sight of our treatment rooms causes anxiety for you, then perhaps the reception area is more appropriate. If you want to come to the treatment room, reinforce to you child that they are in good hands. Don’t try to sit on the chair with them, or ask if they want their hands held while they are getting numb. Kids can sense that something unpleasant is coming if mom or dad is suddenly holding their hand or patting their leg. It’s also best to not promise that your child “won’t feel a thing”. The truth is, even with our best efforts, they might, and they lose trust in us and in you when promises are broken. It’s better to arm them with the confidence that they will make it through safely, than to promise more than we can deliver.
I won’t minimize the stress of these visits on parents. That stress is real and it is valid to feel concern. Just remember that we are here to help your child get on the road to a lifetime of good dental health.