Young children often fear the unknown, so reading stories can give them a clear idea of what they can expect to happen at the dentist. Choose positive, age-appropriate books that show dental appointments as something fun rather than scary.
If your child is a little older and is already showing signs of fear, try reading them a book about another child who overcomes their phobia. Encourage them to make comparisons and think about ways to feel less scared, for example, having mummy or daddy hold their hand while they sit in the chair.
If it's your child's first visit to the dentist or their first time at a new practice, showing them some pictures and talking them through what's going to happen can help them feel more prepared and less anxious.
You could show a picture of the outside of the building, the waiting room with toys for them to play with and the exam room. Let them know that you'll be with them every step of the way by saying things like We'll walk down to the exam room together.
If your child is worried or confused about what's going to happen during their check-up, buying a toy dentist's kit and playing with it together is a fun way to teach them.
Choose a toy or stuffed animal with a large mouth, and then show your child how the dentist will look inside their mouth using a mirror, check their teeth, ask them to use mouthwash and shine a torch inside their mouth. Let them ask lots of questions, and give them a turn playing the role of the dentist.
Many phobias are passed on from parents to children, so it's important to set a positive example for your child, even if you're feeling a little nervous yourself.
If you're both attending appointments on the same day, talk about how you're looking forward to the visit. Avoid saying things like I hate going to the dentist, or I hope this doesn't hurt. Your child can easily pick up on these cues and start to develop their own fears.
Most dentists are more than happy for you to stay in the room during your child's appointment, and many will offer to see you one after the other. Going first is a great way to set a good example and show your child how to behave in the chair. If your child is especially nervous, you could hold their hand during the checkup.
Keep talking and offering positive reinforcement by saying things like You're so grown up sitting nicely in the dentist's chair. I'm so proud of you.
Children often feel much more at ease with a dentist who's experienced in treating young patients. Choose a family dentist who understands that your child might be scared and who will be patient and understanding with them.
Are you worried about your child developing a dental phobia? Follow this advice, and the risk of them developing a fear will be much lower, meaning they'll be able to access the right dental care for the rest of their lives.