Being scared is normal for children but that does not mean they need to be overwhelmed by dentist fear
Recently I have been taking my father to the dentist on a regular basis. At those times, I noticed a number of children visiting the same dentist for their ortho-dental work.
Parents seemed to be having a difficult time convincing their children to go inside and see the doctor. Some were crying and some were not very happy about sitting and waiting for their turn.
There was one particular girl who was crying. Her mom was constantly trying to console her, telling her that it was just an x-ray and there was nothing to worry about, but the girl continued to cry. I felt sorry for her. I tried to console her with some humor. I told her that her teeth were just enjoying taking a ‘selfie’ and she smiled. That made my day.
When we were returning from the dentist’s clinic, I was just sitting back and trying to remember the time I spent with my mother waiting at the dentist’s back in Kolkata (Calcutta) during 1960’s. She had some problem with her teeth and we had to go there to get it extracted. I remember it as not being a fun place to be. Once, when we were there, we heard a grown-up lady crying, inside the dentist’s room. I could hear the doctor consoling her, but eventually she came out still crying and scared without getting anything done. She waited outside. Next was my mother.
The doctor pulled out two of her infected teeth. Yes, it was painful I guess, but she was okay with it. So one day, when her teeth work was done, the doctor happened to look at me and said to my father that my teeth needed some work too! I was shocked. I could not think of anything that was wrong with my teeth. I had all my teeth in the right place and they were fine. I thought he was just joking but realized it to be true when my father took me to his office the following week. I still thought of it as a means to scare me but when the doctor called out my name, I realized it was true.
So now I was trapped. I could not get out of the situation so I entered his room and stood in a corner. I was just entering the tween years and was gawky and uncomfortable, lacking confidence. On top of that the doctor’s comment made me wince, even a little scared. All I could remember was the lady who had cried like a baby the last time we visited the dentist. I was squirming inside but was trying my best to put up a brave front.
So why was I scared? When I first went there it was for my mother and I was not the least bit worried, but this time around it was my turn.
For me it was a scary affair, lying on the dentist’s chair that was so very different from a normal chair, in a strange room, filled with unfamiliar noises and objects. On top a towering person probing and poking with his cold, metallic and unusual instruments in my mouth. I felt very vulnerable with my mouth wide open, looking at the doctor’s masked face. I had to face my fears and overcome it by myself, but you can help your child get over this fear. Mind you, this is the case with some children, not all, and there is no scientific rule as to who is scared and who is not.
Often children’s fear of dentists is based on their anxiety that is the result of having witnessed others in similar situation and their reactions. Apart from this there could be other factors like fear of pain or history of a painful experience in the past, the sight and feel of the dental instruments used by the doctor. For children, these instruments present themselves as potential threat. This coupled with inadequate preparation for the visit to the doctor’s office contributes to the child’s fear of the whole setting. The level of dental fear varies from one child to another. It is up to the parents to get their children prepared for the doctor’s office. If your child is afraid to go to the dentist, help your children relax a bit before they leave home. I know you all want to know: ‘How can I help my children?’
To start with, parents, please refrain from exhibiting any anxiety on your part, because your children will pick it up. Please do not share your unpleasant experience with the dentist with your children. Better is to stress on the importance of healthy teeth and their significance to overall health. Try and give information regarding what is going to happen, but limit the amount of details. Let the dentist answer more complex or detailed questions. Trust me, dentists are trained to answer children’s questions in a non-threatening way and in a language children understand and relate to.
The dentists also do soothe children who are scared. After all it’s their reputation that is at stake. I remember having two of my teeth pulled out as a child at the dentist’s clinic. They were not ready to be extracted, but were extra in my mouth. Initially I was very scared, but the doctor told my father in my presence that my medicine for the pain was ice cream if I did not cry after the extraction of the teeth.
Of course he did give an injection on my gums before pulling them out. Sometimes he even told me stories as a means of drawing my attention away from the procedure. Although I was initially scared of my dentist, he was very pleasant. I believe handling little kids with lots of patience, sensitivity, and pleasantness does wonders to boost the child’s confidence and chips away at their fear.
Finally, being scared is normal in children but that does not mean the child needs to be overwhelmed by dentist’s fear. It is up to the parents to take their children with them during their visits. This will definitely play a big role in preventing, controlling and reducing early response to dental fear. Especially considering that the number of visits to the dentists is bound to increase as children grow and their teeth fall out. It is always a good idea to be prepared in advance, as you will be visiting the dentists at least ten times before your child starts kindergarten. Now that is simple enough, right?
The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books