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Preparing Your Child To Visit The Dentist: Share and Enter for your chance to Win a LISTERINE® SMART MOUTH KIDS $1,000 Prize!

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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).
PERSONALITY MATTERS
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. 
 
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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.
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  • Rebby

    I have never had any issues with the dentist! Teaching your kids at a young age that dentists aren’t the bad guys is key!

  • moemommy

    My son doesnt have any problems visiting the dentist :)

  • michpetea

    With three children and two stepchildren I have come across many dental challenges over the years. At our home the tooth fairy delivers $5 for every healthy tooth. This means no cavities to get rewarded by our fairy friend. This has helped encourage even the youngest of our brood to keep a healthy dental smile. A few more dollars perhaps than the norm from the tooth fairy keeps done the dental office bill.

  • pearcemarie

    I bought a child’s dental play kit at the dollar store.
    I pretended to be the dentist and did everything that a dentist does to my daughter’s teeth and I then I let her pretend to be a dentist and check my teeth.
    When it’s time for her to go to the dentist I pull out the dental play kit and she is happy to go to the dentist because she knows what to expect.

  • jen s.

    we go to a very kind, friendly and patient dentist with wonderful staff. we emphasize that if you take care fo your teeth and visit the dentist each year, then you won’t have to make extra trips to the dentist to take care of the ‘bad things’ that can happen to your teeth if don’t make the regular visit. having a tv screen above the dental chair is also a big help! plus, the fact that i love going to the dentist and having my own teeth cleaned is huge reinforcement.

  • Beg42

    I go to the dentist with my children to make them more comfortable

  • nancy2880

    Checking with friends for recommendations of dentists who have the touch with kids is the first step. Our dentist has a huge stuffed yellow chicken and on the first visit, each child has his/her picture taken with the chicken. Pictures are then put up on the wall. Children are relaxed and having fun in an atmosphere where they aren’t afraid.

  • CC

    When my children were little we made a “dentist” costume (paper hat, mask, and a white cloth coat) and tools(cardboard and foil) so that they could be the dentist. We talked about what dentists do and then we played dentist with all of the dolls and stuffed animals. We talked about what good patients do and by having the dolls and stuffed animals be good patients they found it fun. Consequently, when we went for a first checkup we had no problems. Both of my children had their first visit at the age of 3. They’ve been great with visits ever since(and not one cavity between them!)

  • tektite

    I think the choice of dentist is paramount. Some dentists are just more personable and can relate to kids better than others.

  • elizamatt

    I always took my children with me for my appointment at the dentists when they were small. For most that helped, however one of them refused to open his mouth for the dentist when it was his turn (about 5 years old) and I knew he had one or two cavities. The new dentist was very patient and I spent weeks taking my son back & forth to see him – in the end we gave up and the poor lad had to have a full anaesthetic in order to get his teeth seen to. Thankfully his teeth are no longer a problem.

  • deb

    I never really had a problem, probably due to the fact that our family dentist is a father, and he is a soft spoken gentle man. The kids love him, so they go without any fear at all.

  • Brenda

    My kids are pretty good about going to the dentist. They actually do better than me! lol. When they were younger and a little more apprehensive I would give them lots of praise about how well they did during the visits. During the visit itself, I would try and interact with them as much as possible, looking at wall posters, tools, etc to get their mind off of stuff.

  • pjh

    My kids just came and the hygenists/technicians did a wonderful job showing them things and there didn’t seem to be an issue when the dentist came in to look in their mouths.

  • DeeDee

    My daughter is 6 years old and has been going to see her dentist and hygienist since she was a toddler. She actually looks forward to see them twice a year. Getting a princess toothbrush, princess flosser, her own toothpaste and choosing a small toy make the experience even more fun. I also book my appointment at the same time as hers. She also gets to watch kids’ shows on TV while they work on her teeth.

  • Jennifer

    I have a great dentist but won’t be including our baby in the visits until his teeth start to appear…he’s nearing 3 months and from what I’ve heard from other moms it can start anytime now…give me strength!

  • JJ

    I believe having a good pediatric dentist is key. They specialize in kids, know how to explain things to their age level, and have all the tricks for making the appointment go smoothly. Having a toddler come to older siblings appointments can be helpful and take away the fear of the unknown. It helps them become familiar with the staff and environment and understand the routine. Giving advance warning of the upcoming appointment can be helpful to older kids but be careful with younger ones as they have wild imaginations at that age, and they can become anxious and fearful of what they believe will occur.

  • Al

    I use a dentist that works with children and families

  • pairofdox

    The best way to teach kids not to fear the dentist is to make them visit frequently. Once they got use to the routine, they’d realize that there’s really nothing to be afraid of at all.

  • lrcig

    Our dentist used many of the same techniques that people have already mentioned, like counting teeth, TVs to watch, a children’s drawing and play area, and having her pick a treat or sticker at the end of the visit. In addition, he would show my daughter what he planned to do on her fingernail – spraying water, the polisher, even the drill as I remember. Her cavities were very small and he avoided needles and anaesthetic for years, relieving that source of anxiety. He told her that if she ever felt uncomfortable, to raise her hand and he’d stop and take a break (and he was true to his word). It also may have helped that our dentist is the dad of one of her schoolmates!

  • drjess

    I think that finding a child-centered dentist’s office is very important. A caring dental support staff can make all the difference. We try to make the dentists trip a fun event including a healthy lunch and a small toy.

  • Lorie S

    A dentist that is great with children is a must have. If I don’t feel comfortable with the dentist I know my children won’t either. We found a awesome family dentist who took us on a tour of his office and explained his tools before my children had their first appointment. It worked great with helping overcome their fear!!

  • Ron

    Not sure what to say. Our case is a bit unique. His dentist is also his Grand-dad :)

  • WestCoastMom

    Starting out young is a plus if your children are still small and I can’t say enough for choosing a pediatric dentist. Yes it’s more out of pocket up front but the money you will save on being preventative will be astronomical in comparison.

  • Tara J

    My best tip is to start them early. I took my daughter to her first appointment at 14 months with a pediatric dentist that is geared towards treating children. The atmosphere in office already puts the children at ease and makes it a “fun” experience. Our dentist insists that we never associate the dentist with any “bad” words, we never say “this may hurt” “needle” “don’t be surprised” etc.
    I’ve found starting her young has really helped the transition, she builds a relationship with her dentist as we do and learns to trust that they will always tell her what they are going to do and that they are trying to keep her “teefies” nice and strong.

  • Nate3333

    I tell my children about the appointment well in advance so it is not a surprise to them

  • sensfan4eva

    My son has always loved the dentist, the key is taking them when they are old enough to understand that the dentist is not hurting them but helping them keep their teeth nice and shiny and healthy. If you take them when they are too young to understand they get scared of the dentist. Also, always get the dentist and hygentist to explain to your child very simply what they are doing.

  • JJ

    We have played meet the dentist games, but I find the best method is to find a very relaxed dental clinic that truly enjoys children. We are lucky in that regard and have had no problems.

  • lpappas

    Find a dentist with a good sense of humour and who understands kids’ fears of the “big chair” and all those weird noises/smells. Of course it doesn’t hurt when your child receives a nice goody bag with a cool toothbrush and their choice of a toy from the treasure chest!

  • freddybob

    I try to be positive about the whole dentist going experience and never say anything negative about the dentist in front of my kids, I try to reassure them that everything will be allright and it seems to work so far.

  • pinecone

    I took my daughter to the dentist at the same time I went. A child-friendly office is really important.

  • katylava

    About the only tip I have is to lead my example and make regular appointments with the dentist as well. Teeth are a big issue for our family; both our boys are on a waiting list for dental surgery and our oldest has already dealt with an abscessed tooth. Needless to say, his first experience (an unnecessary pulpectomy of the infected tooth) was NOT a good one. Fortunately, the children’s dentist we FINALLY got in to see is amazing and if the boys can just hold out a few more months, their mouths will be completely fixed.
    So I guess that would be another one of my tips. Take your child to see an actual children’s dentist, not just a family dentist that takes children. It makes a world of difference in the child’s attitude.

  • Shelly

    My kids have had relatively good teeth health so trips to the dentist do not cause anxiety. When 2 of them have had to have cavities filled the dentist has such a great demeanor and touch that they didn’t complain at all. Lucky I guess

  • pinnymom

    I think you have to be careful about how you talk about the dentist and if you do not like to go yourself and your children know, they will not want to go either. Choosing the right dentist is also important. Meet with your child and the dentist and see what their rapport is. Don’t just abandon your child to the dentist on their own. If they see that you like the dentist and have a good rapport so will they!

  • ronnies

    My little boy is 2 and it is time for his first visit to the dentist so this post was very timely for us. I am going to look for a pediatric dentist and may try ‘playing dentist’ with him beforehand. I really hope it goes well!

  • Tiffer

    I think a CHILD friendly dentist and hygentist are the keys to making trips less scarey! If you have a non approachable dental team, or ones that are rough on the mouth, kids aren’t going to want to go back!

  • gizfarris

    I always tried to explain everything the dentist was going to do before they got there. They didn’t seem to mind going.

  • brainstorm

    I find that when taking my children to the dentist it helps to make it more of an adventure (a new world if you will). They bring a toy of their own (to have something familiar) but then get to ‘explore’ the waiting room and look at the models of the teeth that are on display and leaflets. If there are other children there it also gives them an opportunity to meet new people which helps put them at ease. We have a game of looking out the window and guessing where the people on the sidewalk are going. Basically anything to keep them in a more calm state seems to work for us.

  • tinad

    Don’t have make your children afraid of the Dentist. You need to find someone who is good with children, ask for recommendations from friends. My kids don’t mind going to the dentist, she’s great with them, and it’s not a chore to visit. We make our appointments all at once, so the kids see that even Mom and Dad have to go through it too, and take care of our teeth just as much.

  • sparky

    I children actually like going to the dentist because they know they can pick out a little prize at the end of the visit and they get a new toothbrush.

  • Nico

    I always book my dentist appointment with my children’s. They don’t seem to mind going so much if they know that I have to get my teeth looked at too.

  • angsur

    I agree having a good dentist is the key to fighting dentistphobia.

  • janetm

    The first visit to the dentist is important. We tried to make it a fun experience and the staff at our clinic all work very hard to make it a positive experience. Parents can prepare a child though play activities but the staff is key to a happy first experience.

  • ginette4

    I’ve been fortunate with my girls, they never feared going to the dentist, we have a great dentist maybe that’s why they were never scared, she is awesome and being able to pick from the fabulous brusher box that was full of children’s toys probably helped also :)

  • ArashNaghdi

    I try to make sure that my kids brush there teeth 3 times a day, sometimes its really hard because we get home late and they are really sleepy so they dont brush as well so in times like this I have to give them a prize so they brush there teeth properly

  • Debra B

    A kid friendly dentist is a must, I really like the idea of taking the kids for a tour and a kind of get to know you, before their actual first appointment

  • Shan

    We have a wonderful pediatric dentist that my family has been seeing since I was a child. The office is geared to kids with all kinds of toys and video games in the waiting room to put them at ease. A train runs around above the dental chairs to serve as a distraction. The staff are all wonderful. To prepare my very independent 2 1/2 year old girl I have been bringing her to the office when my teenage son goes for his cleanings and check-ups. She is able to experience the office and the routine of the appointment. (counting teeth, flossing, polishing, fluoride). So far she has only had her teeth examined and counted but that went very well… especially for her being so strong willed! She left the office happy and chats about the dentist visit often. Seek out a dentist who specializes in kids and prepare them as appropriate for their age.

  • murphy

    My children rarely got cavities, so never really minded going to the dentist. Plus, we picked at dentist that we knew was great with kids.

  • AgnesM

    We started out by making a game out of playing dentist at home with my kids when they were very little. We would pretend that it was time for our visit to the dentist/hygienist and use the recliner as our dentist’s chair so we could lay back and have the “dentist” look in their mouths, use dental floss, and then clean their teeth with their own toothbrushes. Then they could have a treat from the trinket box when they cooperated. The kids also got to be the dentist for their dad and I. It seemed to work for us!

  • Janette

    It is amazing the fear that can develop from something one has absolutely no experience with! However, my son knew his dental habits were far from good and his fear of going to have a cleaning or check up was palatable. No work could be done unless they put him under.

  • Suzanneab

    A dentist who runs a kid-friendly office is the best preparation. They know how to deal with children and make the trip more enjoyable.

  • ghisl

    Start them young and don’t make it a big deal – just something we do like everyone else. Make it a pleasurable experience followed by a trip to the zoo or park. It always worked for me.

  • spamgirl

    If you have a good dentist, it really shouldn’t be a problem. Once we found a dentist who laid down the law, the issues ended immediately.

  • outasite

    Our dentist is the key. He is kid-friendly and is so reassuring. Our little guy loves the “rewards” at the end and that is what we focus on.

  • Iris

    When my children were young I asked around for recommendations for a good pediatric dentist. I am nervous when I go to the dentist because of many bad experiences I had and I wanted better for my children. I found a wonderful pediatric dentist office where everything was geared for children. All the staff were kind but firm and had a wonderful way with my daughters. During the first few visits they just counted the teeth and kept the visits short and fun. As my daughters got used to going they started polishing their teeth while they were distracted by the TV’s tuned to children’s programing. I always made appointments for first thing in the morning and I never told them ahead of time when the appointment was so they never had chance to worry. I made all their appointments for the same time so they would take their turn but were allowed to watch each others cleanings being done. They would leave with a goody bag of stickers, a new toothbrush and some flossers and beautiful smiles! The best bit of advice I would give is make your house a “No Pop or Juice” zone with only water and milk for drinks. Instead of fruit juice give your child the piece of fresh fruit. We only served juice and pop at parties where it was a treat.

  • taigakat

    With my daughter knowing well in advance is the key. No surprises. If I give her time to digest and ask questions she does beter.

  • Momma2boys

    My boys have never been uncomfortable going to the dentist! They have each been going for regular check up since they were 2 and they are now 5 & 8! When it was time to see a dentist we picked one who specializes in children. She was really sweet and the boys love her `Scottish`accent! We went for a tour a week before their appoinment and the boys were introduced to the treasure chest! After their check ups they get a goodie bag of dental related items and they get to pick a treasure- they always pick the sugarfree gum that she has (it is the only time I let them have gum). They look forward to seeing her twice a year and so far have always been cavityfree!. She also has the best staff from the receptionist to the hygenists they alwasy know a good kids joke or two!

  • LL

    I have a sensitive child who just had a bad experience with painful fillings. I have talked it through with him and assured him I will communicate with the doctor to make sure his next experience is as painless as possible. I also remind him how strong he is. Bottom line–keep him busy to occupy his mind with positive things and remind him that like all other uncomfortable experiences he will get through it!

  • nikkialeta

    I struggle a bit with my two year old, she’s starting to make it part of her morning and evening routine, as it’s part of ours. The best way we get her excited about it is by having a special toothbrush and two different kinds of toothpaste for her to choose from. Either one she chooses is fine, but she feels like she’s “winning”.

  • canadadrygreentea

    I totally agree with Kath on everything said in this article. We also use a dentist who is rather laid-back and soft spoken as well and caters to families with children. Also, they have a dental hygienist that deals strictly with children which works wonders. Furthermore, laughing gas is not just a great tool for the kids but for adults as well! :)

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