Is taking your children to the dentist a painful experience in more ways than one? Does the fear factor mean that check-ups have become a lot less regular than they should?
Children’s oral health care is vitally important, however, it is a common misconception among parents that because milk teeth fall out, brushing them isn’t essential. “Not good news,” says Dr Henry Clover, senior dental advisor at Denplan, “as research shows that kids with poor dental health are likely to develop poor general health as adults, such as diabetes and heart disease.”
A healthy diet and brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes is essential to help keep teeth and the rest of the mouth in good shape. It also helps to avoid the early development of complications such as gum disease.
“Almost everyone suffers from gum disease at some point in their lives, but it is totally preventable, and a good oral healthcare routine can easily prevent it from developing into something more serious.”
Dr Clover also recommends regular check-ups from a young age, not only to keep children’s teeth in good nick but also to instil the message of preventive care from childhood – get them in good habits now!
For many parents however, this is easier said than done, and visiting the dentist with a child who is afraid or uncomfortable can be a nightmare. For many, the trauma involved means that they simply don’t go.
Dr Clover has some useful hints and tips on visiting the dentist with your children and how to make it as painless as possible :
Take your children from as young an age as possible so they are familiar with the sounds, sights and smells before they even have to sit in the chair.
Where possible keep the same dentist for your children – it provides familiarity and security.
The fear is often that they have no control over what the dentist is doing, let the dentist know that when the child’s hand goes up – all work stops.
Ask your dentist to show the children around the room and the equipment before their appointment to help familiarise them and demystify the whole procedure.
Remember, teeth grow healthy, so there’s no substitute for regular brushing routine and a healthy diet to keep them healthy. Avoid snacking, sugary foods and fizzy drinks.
We’ve also talked to Dr Angharad Rudkin, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist who works with children and families. She recommends the following five things to try to keep your child calm at the dentist:
Make it part of the routine
Children cope much better with events that are predictable and familiar. Make going to the dentist part of a family routine – make a day of it and involve everyone in the family.
Don’t show your fear
Even if you are dreading going to the dentist yourself, try not to let your children know this as they will quickly learn that there is something to fear.
Make a game of it
Time one another’s appointments are or count how many teeth you all have while in the waiting room.
Read a book
There are plenty of books about children going to the dentist – these can help them to talk about their anxieties as well as allowing them to find out more about what dentists do.
Reward your child for getting through the dentist appointment. After all, we are all more likely to do something if it’s followed by a nice consequence. Talk beforehand about what this treat will be e.g. a visit to the toy shop, an extra hour on the computer – just not a sugary treat!
And most importantly we have spoken to some real mums with experience of troubled dentists visits and what worked for them.
“My two were scared of the dentist from their first visit, so after a few nightmare visits I booked my appointment at the same time as theirs and let them watch me have a check-up first. After that they were so keen to be grown up like mummy we had no problems.”
Jeanette Roberts, Oxford.
“My son’s dentist wasn’t very child friendly, and he picked up on this and really disliked dentist visits. I talked to friends about it and was recommended a really lovely dentist who had racecars stuck on the ceiling for kids to look at while in the chair. My son loves going now, and always notices when a new car has been stuck to the racetrack on the ceiling!”
Wendy Swain, Southampton.
“At bedtime my children get sleepy and grumpy and they refuse to brush their teeth, I often find I lose the battle and they get away without doing them at all. Now I have started getting them to brush them while they’re in the bath, while they are still in a good mood. It works really well and means teeth get brushed every night.”
Jenny Legg, Yorkshire.