According to research collected by the University of Adelaide in 2016, up to a third of the Australian population experiences some kind of fear of the dentist, with approximately 5% of people suffering from a dental phobia.
Dental phobia — an extreme anxiety that accompanies dental visits or, in extreme cases, the mere mention of the dentist — can have significant detrimental consequences for an individual. These consequences can range from a delay in necessary dental treatment leading to more invasive procedures being required, through to complex health issues, such as oral cancers, being missed because of a lack of regular oral check-ups.
Due to the negative impact that dental phobias can exert on a person's life, it is therefore essential to do everything possible in order to prevent a child from developing a fear of the dentist.
Whilst dental phobias are complex and can develop for myriad reasons, there are a few simple ways it is possible to help your child to foster a positive relationship with their dentist, thereby reducing the risk of the child developing a fear of the dentist before they reach adulthood.
Choose your child's dentist wisely:
The main component of your child feeling comfortable at the dentist is to find the right dentist for your child. Word of mouth is a fantastic way to find a dentist who comes highly rated by people you trust; you could ask your friends for the details of the dentist they visit with their child or, alternatively, asking on local Facebook groups for dentists who are good with children will enable to you receive a range of recommendations for dental practices you could then visit with your child in order to see which practice feels right for you.
Acclimatise your child to the surroundings
The surroundings of a dental office can be entirely alien to a child; the sterile environment of a dentist's room is not something they will frequently encounter in their day-to-day lives. This new atmosphere alone is enough to raise anxiety levels in some children, and this anxiety can then be carried over into adulthood to contribute to a dental phobia. Normalising this environment can help to reduce anxiety when visiting a child dentist. A simple way to normalise these surroundings is to acclimatise a child to them by having them accompany you on your own visits to the dentist.
Show your child there is nothing to fear
Whilst having your child accompany you to the dentist is a great way to normalise what would otherwise be an alien situation for them, if you choose to do so, then it is essential that you yourself are relaxed when you visit the dentist. If you have your own dental phobia then allowing your child to witness your anxiety could have a detrimental impact on their own perceptions of the dentist. Therefore, if you do decide to have your child accompany you on a visit to your dentist, ensure that the visit is relaxed and that it is for something simple such as a routine check-up.
Minimise the stress of your child's visits to the dentist
Don't make a big deal about a visit to the dentist. As much as is possible, simply slot the appointment into your day as you would any normal activity like a visit to the shops. However, taking time to include a fun activity that your child enjoys — such as a trip to the park — after the appointment will help to create a positive association with the dentist in your child's mind. This positive association will reduce the risk of them experiencing negative thoughts about the dentist, and will hopefully minimise the likelihood of your child developing a dental phobia in later life.