“I love going to the dentist!” It might be a stretch thinking you’ll hear that from most kids. Even so, that perspective can motivate you as a dentist to deal with anxiety in kids during their first appointment.
Almost 20% of school age children are afraid of a dental visit. Those in that range, and the larger percentage of dental avoiders, increase the challenge of helping families establish good oral health habits.
Can You Give a Parent a Hand?
Parents feel a heavy burden to look after their kid’s health – dentistry included. They’re looking for understanding and an advocate to help them with their child’s attitude about it.
You can share the load by:
- Giving them advance “talking points.” Kids appreciate predictability so encourage parents to not drop a dental appointment on them at the last minute.
- Establishing a communication thread. A first dental appointment prompts a lot of questions – be ready and be available via phone, text, email, and virtually.
- Gathering as much info as possible about their child. Their fears, oral health habits, lifestyle/diet, school and personal interests, etc.
- Supply parents with resources that will help prepare their kids for what to expect on their first visit.
Do everything within reason to support a parent’s desire to improve their child’s oral health.
HOW TO HELP KIDS ACTUALLY “LOVE” THEIR FIRST APPOINTMENT (AND EACH ONE AFTER THAT)
Use Your Kind Voice and Simple Words
In essence, ditch the dental speak. You’ll be amazed how simplifying your words can also impact your tone.
Kids feel at ease when you use a friendly, familiar voice. Use simple descriptions when talking about procedures.
Have a Conversation with the Child Too
It’s natural to default to the adult-in-the-room (aka, the parent or guardian). But keep in mind that the child is the one you’ll be treating.
Kids are part of the patient experience too. Showing an interest in their life, their interests, and their fears will create trust and increase their comfort.
High-Five the Good Behavior
Give every kid “praise” when they show bravery during their dental appointment. It could be nothing short of heroic for some kids to hang-in for the duration of a check-up or treatment.
Applause reinforces behavior. Even a small amount of way-to-go’s can lead to a trusting, long-term relationship with you as their dentist.
SOMETIMES YOU NEED SOME ADDITIONAL SUPPORT
There will be those kids that regardless of how you speak to them, speak with them, or reward their good efforts – they need a little more assistance with a first or future dental appointment.
This can apply in a themed, calm, kid-centric environment too.
Promote Sedation Solutions Where Necessary
It’s called “happy gas” for a reason. And it’s better for your young patients that you refer to it as such.
The anxiety reducing effects of sedation dentistry deserve attention – especially for those kids that require a bit more coaxing.
- Explain how it works and what to expect.
- Confirm with their parent any additional sedation methods (e.g. oral sedation, etc) if there’s a reason they prefer not to use “happy gas.”
Encourage Behavioral Support
There are times when you wear a “therapist’s” hat during a first dental visit. Of course, you’re aware of your boundaries and skill set. But a listening, compassionate ear can be the beginning of helping a child and parent unpack some potential rooted fears.
- Have some behavioral therapy resources in-your-hip-pocket. A counseling or therapeutic referral could be just what a child needs if their anxiety is more ingrained.
- Watch your “language” and encourage parents to do the same. We’re not talking the “foul” type but rather words like “hurt,” “shots,” “only a little…,” etc. These send up red-flags.
- Be patient and supportive. Anxiety in kids about a dental visit can be overcome but it takes time and consistency. Cool heads will prevail – yours not theirs.
Create an environment that reduces (or eliminates) anxiety in kids beginning with their first appointment.
An outstanding patient experience for kids and families begins with a kid-centric mindset and the environment that supports it.
Check out these related resources for upgrading, renewing, and providing anxiety-free dental visits:
A Practical Guide to Creating an Exceptional Patient Experience
Set kids and their parents up for a lifetime of positive health outcomes. Create an environment that:
- Reduces patient anxiety and enhances their relaxation
- Primes kids and families for their appointments
- Promotes positive dental care experiences
Contact Imagination Design Studios (IDS) to get started transforming your office into an anxiety-free dental experience for kids.
Grab a free resource you can share with your young patients: