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Fear of the dentist is so commonplace that it has become a part of popular culture. Dentistry has progressed to the point where these fears are irrational. These fears often take root in childhood. Here's what parents can do to prevent it from happening.

Studies show that an alarming percentage of adults suffer from anxiety at the thought of an upcoming dentist appointment. Needless to say, our children may be scared, too.

This is perfectly natural, as children are creatures of habit and any new situation triggers fear in their minds. Especially if it involves a stranger in new environment with loud jarring noises, big machines, and sharp instruments.

There are few things parents can do to prevent this phobia of dentists from settling in their child’s mind, something that can stop them from getting the care they need to keep their teeth healthy.

1. Start young

Take your child to the dentist as soon as the first tooth appears in their mouth, or when the child turns one year old, whichever event occurs earlier. The advantage of doing this is that a dental visit becomes a part of the child’s routine and the first visit becomes a means of familiarizing the child with the space and the dentist — before they ever need actual treatment, which can sometimes be frightening.

2. Practice good oral hygiene

Teach your child the advantage of brushing twice daily and rinsing after any food or drink. Children learn well with repetition and making game of cleaning all the germs in the mouth to prevent any cavities may work in motivating them, and also delaying any need for dental treatment. Talk about the dentist as a friend who keeps their teeth healthy. Offer a healthy diet low in sugar, and explain how sugar is bad for your teeth.

3. Do pretend dentist visits as a game

Toddlers love pretend play, so do a dentist visit game, teaching the child to look inside the mouth with a torch and a small mirror and to count all the teeth. You could pretend there is a cavity that needs filling and emulate the loud noise of the dental drill just to get the child accustomed. Pretend to take an X-ray showing a picture of the child’s teeth. Make the child do a quick cleaning of your teeth and explain that it only tickles a little!

4. Don’t transfer your fears

Never convey your fears to your child. If you had a bad experience with the dentist or suffer from dental anxiety, don’t talk about that experience. Don’t use the words drill, injection, or pain to describe the dental procedure to your child. Don’t get into too many details and allow the dentist to explain the procedure to the child in their own way.

5. Look for dentists who specialize in the treatment of children

Find a dentist who has a good reputation for handling children and someone who is patient with them. You can talk about the dentist a bit with your child, telling them about the dentist’s children, pets, or hobbies so that the child feels like he or she already knows the dentist.

Also, the dentist may allow your child to take a small toy with them on the dental chair. Dentists who treat children often have their own ways of explaining things to children in a manner that doesn’t make the child feel scared. They will also introduce their tools and machinery in a child-friendly manner.

6. Familiarize the child

Don’t wait till the last minute to talk to your child about the upcoming dental appointment. Explain what they can expect in a very simple and positive way. You could read a storybook about dentist visits to your child, or show them a cartoon video or a video game regarding a dental appointment so that they can relate to it better.

7. Tell, show, do

You could take your child along to your own dental appointment, but this is only a good idea if you do not suffer from any dental anxiety and if the procedure to be performed is a short and simple one like a dental cleaning or filling.

In case you have an older child who is accustomed to dentist visits, you can motivate your older child to demonstrate a dental appointment to the younger child so as to instill confidence in the little one. Your smiling face or the siblings' smiling face during treatment can go a long way in removing any fear from the child’s mind.

8. Positive reinforcement

This is a tricky road to go down! The treat promised should never be candy or chocolate, as it goes against the effort to teach good dietary habits. You also don't want to bribe the child or be held ransom to good behavior only with the promise of forthcoming rewards. We are not nurturing sociopaths, no. The reward should be simple and given at the end of the visit like a new book or a visit to the park.

A final word

Once you are at the dental office, be prepared for a little crying on your child’s part. Tackle it calmly in a smiling and comforting manner. Congratulate your child on small things like opening his or her mouth wide. Shower the child with compliments on how brave and cooperative the child is being.

Armed with all these ideas and tools, you should be well equipped to introduce your child to dentist appointments without any fear in their minds. However despite all this, in case the child is still anxious and requires some extensive treatment then this can safely be done under conscious sedation.

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