Fred Rogers talks about
Going to the Dentist
“Over their lifetime, children will meet many health care professionals like dentists and dental hygienists. Little by little children can learn that they are worth taking care of. When children feel that they are much more likely to grow into adults who take good care of themselves.”
One of the first ways we human beings learn about the world is through our mouths. In fact, our earliest pleasure comes through our mouths. The experience of that early feeding influences us forever. All through life we use our mouths for eating, for talking, for expressing feelings, and for showing affection.
“I Like to Be Told”
It's not surprising that children have concerns about a visit to the dentist. It’s a place where someone not only looks in their mouths but puts fingers and tools in there, too. Just as with any other new experience, it's helpful to prepare children for what to expect. They'll trust us more and more as they find that the things we tell them are true.
It helps children to know ahead of time about some of the unfamiliar things they'll see in the dentist's office -- the bright light, the chair that goes up and down, the tray of sharp-looking instruments, the little hoses that squirt either air or water or act like a vacuum cleaner for their mouth. Often it’s the small things that we adults take for granted that may be the biggest concern for a child. A bib that suddenly gets clipped around the neck, for instance, might make a child wonder if he or she is going to be turned into a baby again. The bright intense light shining in their eyes may also upset them.
Usually during the first visit, the dentist will need only to take a good look at your child's mouth, count your child's teeth, and possibly do a simple cleaning procedure. At that time, potential problems can be spotted so they can be corrected later. Because dentists generally don't do "treatments" on a first visit, that's a good time for children to get used to sitting in a dentist’s chair and having someone look into their mouths.
Controlling the Urge to Bite
Many young children are likely to be wrestling with their natural urge to bite, and a dental exam may test their self-control. Biting is a way that some young children have of saying, "I'm angry," and it may be their only way to express their anger until they're able to use words well. Even children who have learned to control their urge to bite may feel angry when someone makes them open their mouths when they don't want to. They know they shouldn't bite, but they're not sure that they can control that feeling. It can be scary for them to think they might hurt someone whose fingers are in their mouth.
Taking Care of Yourself
Over their lifetime, children will meet many health care professionals like dentists and dental hygienists. Little by little children can learn that they are worth taking care of. That's what makes them want to eat healthy foods, brush and floss regularly, and have checkups. When children feel that they are people who are worth taking care of, they are much more likely to grow into adults who take good care of themselves.
Trust Between Parents and Dentists:
It may be hard for some of us parents to help our child have positive attitudes about the dentist when we ourselves are dealing with our ownmemories and concerns about needles or drilling or pain. Of course, dentistry today is different than when some of us were children. Today, most routine dental work that a child needs is practically painless.
Your reassurance can be especially helpful for your child. Of course, if you're calm and confident about the dentist or hygienist, and if you can be right there with your child, you’re offering the best emotional support of all.
As children begin to manage dental procedures, the biggest help will be a trusting relationship with the dentist and the dental hygienist. That's why it's important to choose a dentist who cares about children and their special needs. If you as a parent feel good about a dentist, the chances are your child will sense your confidence and have positive feelings, too.
Caring for Teeth at Home:
This article is excerpted from “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book” the last book Fred Rogers worked on before his death in 2003. In this book he wanted to support parents in their most important work of parenting and to help them better understand their young children. As he wrote in the introduction to the book:
“.. if we can bring our children understanding, comfort, and hopefulness when they need this kind of support, then they are more likely to grow into adults who can find these resources within themselves later on.”