Surveys have shown that around 16 percent of children have a fear of going to the dentist. When you work in the industry, that statistic probably doesn’t surprise you. You’ve likely had your fair share of fearful kids walking into your practice.
Hopefully, by the time they leave, you’ve been able to calm their fears and help them realize the dental office isn’t a scary place.
However, if you’re having trouble with that, and want to make every child’s experience more comfortable and happier when they walk in, there are a few positive steps you can take. Your goal should be to keep the emotional struggles of every child to a minimum when they’re in your chair, so they understand the importance of oral health without fear attached to it.
So, what can you do to make your practice less scary for children?
1. Help Parents Prepare
Ideally, parents will talk to their children about coming to the dentist long before their appointment. Not everyone does that though, leaving the child to wonder what they should expect, and letting their imagination run wild.
When a parent calls to make an appointment, offer them some tips on what to say to their child to help them prepare. You can even send out brochures and pamphlets designed for kids to help parents explain to their children what they can expect. Preparation is an essential component of reducing fear and can help children to feel more confident about their appointment.
You can also use the opportunity to give parents helpful tips to use at home that promote good oral health. That includes things like:
- Establishing a routine
- Letting the child pick their own toothbrush
- Making the process fun
- Encouraging independence
Children trust their parents and look to them for guidance and protection alike. By establishing a relationship and working with parents before a child’s appointment, that child will be less likely to feel overwhelmed with fear when they sit down in your chair.
2. Have Kid-Friendly Areas
On days when you’re running behind or the office is busy, there might be more people in your waiting room than usual. While adults might not mind, waiting can be difficult for kids. When a child is already worried about their appointment, sitting in a quiet waiting room with their thoughts to keep them company can make their fears even worse.
Consider creating a kid-friendly area or two in your waiting room that keeps children entertained. A playroom, for example, will associate a positive experience with going to the dentist and will help to distract them and reduce stress while they wait for their appointment.
Make sure any designated play areas are safe, have soft places to sit and play, and age-appropriate toys for everyone. Parents should feel comfortable letting their children play freely there without having to worry about them getting injured. Some ideas to keep them entertained and active include:
- Board games
- Activity centers
- Soft furniture
- Gaming consoles
You can also use these kid-friendly areas as a way to “prepare” children before their appointment. Use dental-themed decor, like a friendly cartoon tooth or toothbrush. When kids associate those things with happy, harmless characters, it can help them to realize your office isn’t a scary place. Adults who struggle with a fear of the dentist are often scared because of negative experiences as a child. By encouraging more positive experiences for kids in your office, they typically won’t hang onto that fear into adulthood and will practice better oral health care.
3. Build Trust Over Time
You already know the importance of teaching oral care at an early age. However, what you really want is to establish healthy lifelong practices. If a child comes into your office and has a negative first experience, it’s going to stick with them.
So, while it might take some extra time and effort, consider building a relationship with each young patient over a series of appointments.
The first time they come in, the visit should be quick and painless. Be friendly, use age-appropriate language and mannerisms, and use it as a way to establish a baseline for care. Let the child know exactly what you’re going to be doing and why, even if it’s something as simple as counting their teeth or taking a look at their current oral health state.
Be open to answering questions – we all know kids are curious! The more informed they are about everything from procedures to equipment, the less worried they’ll be. From there, talk to their parents about a specific treatment plan, and ensure them you’ll take your time with each step. It takes a little patience, but building a certain level of trust with your young patients will make a big difference in the years to come.
We all know dental visits aren’t what they used to be, and in many ways, that’s a good thing. Hopefully, as more practices start to implement ideas that are more appealing and less scary for children, the next generation won’t have such a great fear of the dentist, and we’ll see an upward trend in oral health improvement. That starts with you and your practice.
About the Author
Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.