"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.
- THOUGHTS FROM FRED ROGERS
- Helpful Hints
“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.
Before the First Day of Child Care:
- Help your child know what to expect. Talk about the fancy chair and some of the dental tools, like the little mirror on a handle, the special electric toothbrush, the water squirter for rinsing teeth. You may want to ask a librarian for books about the dentist's office so your child can see what some of the equipment looks like. You may also want to let your child know that each dentist's office is different and won't look exactly like the one in the books.
- Let your child know about the waiting room, too. It would be a good idea to take along one or two little toys or a small notebook in case there are no playthings and you have to wait a while to begin the appointment.
- Encourage your child to play about being the dentist with a doll or stuffed animal. When children play about being the dentist, they are in charge of what happens, and they might not feel so helpless when they are the patients.
- Before your child’s first dental appointment, you may want to consider taking your child along with you when you have a dental cleaning, so your child can know what to expect.
- If you think your child may be especially upset during a visit to the dentist, it’s good to call the dentist or hygienist and talk about it beforehand. They like to be told if you or your child has special concerns.
Caring for Teeth at Home:
- Brushing teeth properly is a key to having healthy teeth, and children need help with that. Encourage your child to start brushing his or her teeth, even though you may have to finish the job. You'll need to help with flossing, too. Children often find it fun to brush because they are grownup things to do.
- Encourage your child to eat and drink foods like milk and crunchy fruits and vegetables that help to grow strong and healthy teeth. These foods make the best between-meal snacks, too.
- Talk with your child about the difference between foods that are always good for us, like fruits and vegetables, and foods like candy and sweets that should be eaten only as an occasional treat.
- Encourage your children to brush their teeth and rinse after every meal and particularly after eating sweet or sticky foods.