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White Coat Anxiety


9 Ways to Make Dentist’s Visits Less Traumatic

You’re approaching the dental office, and your child gulps in fear.  He’s nervous, anxious and intimidated.  It’s called “white coat anxiety,” and people of all ages can experience it.  While your terrified child may provoke his/her own anxiety as well as yours, dentist appointments are a fact of his/her young life.  Utilizing the following suggestions may turn dental mayhem into fun field trips for both of you!

  • Stay positive and calm, even if you as a parent have anxiety towards the dentist.  If a parent has a positive, self-assured attitude about going to the dentist, the child picks up on that sense of confidence too.
  • Wait until the day of the visit to tell your child he/she is going to the dentist.  This cuts down on anticipatory anxiety.  Don’t make a big deal about it.
  • Take one of your child’s security objects with you, such as a favorite blanket or toy.  Different tactics may be required depending on whether the child is going for an annual check-up or a dental procedure such as a filling.  If the child has a cavity, words of clever explanation would be wasted on him/her.  Simply bring along comfort items, such as his/her blankie, a favorite stuffed animal, toy or DVD.
  • Let your child role-play going to the dentist with you.  Parents can choose a toy medical kit for their child to play with at home.  Let your child be the dentist and give you pretend needles and examine your teeth and gums.  This helps him/her to master his/her own fear.  Suggest using favorite stuffed animals as patients.
  • Portray your child’s dentist as a helpful, friendly person.  Talk about the dentist with your child.  Describe the dentist as a person who has a family and is a mommy or daddy, too.
  • Read books about going to the dentist to your child.  This quickly helps children relate in a positive way.  Find a book that features a character that your child enjoys, such as Barney or Big Bird, or The Bernenstain Bears Go To The Dentist.
  • Be honest about what is going to happen at the dentist appointment.  The old adage, “Honesty is the best policy,” holds true even with a 1- or 2- year-old, especially true when children ask about needles.  Tell them that yes, the needle may hurt, but it will be over soon.  It only hurts for a few seconds because it makes the area go to sleep.  With some children it is best not to tell them what will happen at the appointment unless they ask.  However, if they ask tell them the truth but not necessarily all the details.
  • Take your child for his/her annual check-ups on a regular basis.  Seeing the dentist when he/she does not have a cavity will help him/her to feel comfortable in the dentist’s office.  Try to schedule all appointments with the same dentist in our practice.  That way, the child sees the same dentist all the time and they really get to know each other. An exception to this rule is if the child has a dental emergency and has to see whatever dentist is available.

Set a good example for your child by letting them see that you take care of your teeth.  One way to do this is to allow your child to accompany you to a dentist appointment.  Although this may not be feasible if you are going for a special procedure, your regular dental check-up may be a fun way to expose your child to the concept that everyone needs to visit his/her dentist to stay healthy. By taking the child with you when getting an annual check-up helps him/her to see that Mommy and Daddy get cavities sometimes too.