Going to the dentist can be scary for a child. Even a routine teeth cleaning can seem like a tooth extraction if a child is already apprehensive about having someone tooling around in his or her mouth. Add in the layers of personal protective equipment that are now required of those working in any business or essential service, and a simple trip to the dentist can seem even scarier. This is why it is important to let your children know that though things may look different, and maybe even a little strange, there is no need to be scared.
Getting used to the new norm of wearing masks and face shields will take time for us adults, but imagine being a child and observing such a drastic change in our world. Even with detailed explanations of what is happening, it is still off-putting for a child to communicate, or even get close to, someone whose face is partially covered. Getting your kid to sit still in the dentist’s chair just got harder, but there are ways to get your young ones to understand that everything is going to be okay.
Show, Don’t Tell
Trying to explain to your child what he’s about to walk into before a trip to the dentist will surely scare him, no matter how nicely you try and say it. Chances are, children will hear something like this: “Someone with a face mask and shield and gown is going to stick sharp, metal objects in your mouth,” even if you literally say something like this: “The dentist will have a face covering and gown, but he is not scary and he won’t hurt you.”
Instead of starting with an explanation, try to show what the experience will be like as much as possible. Put on your mask (and shield if you have one) and have your child sit in a chair like he or she would during a visit to the dentist. With your mask still on, mimic the movements of a teeth cleaning, maybe even get a toothbrush and brush your child’s teeth.
Try and make it fun, but also mention that this is what it will be like going to see the real dentist. Let your child ask questions and keep the conversation open—you know that little mind will be thinking about this for much longer.
There’s a Person Under That Mask
Before making the trip to see the dentist, pull up a picture of the entire dental team and show your child. Explain that even though their faces will be mostly covered while you are there, this is what they actually look like. Along with your child, take special note of the hair and eye color of each individual. Since these two aspects will be visible during the appointment, your child should be able to recognize who is hovering over him or her.
It is also important to encourage your child to talk to and ask questions of the staff. Anything that can be done to highlight the fact that it’s a real person beneath the personal protective equipment is helpful—and you can definitely count on the dental staff to engage in conversation as much as possible, so you are not completely alone in your quest to normalize a trip to the dentist.
At Adam Brown DDS, we understand that a trip to the dentist can be especially scary for young ones these days. If you find your child is struggling to understand why going to the dentist is so different than before, take the time to show what it will look like and explain that underneath those masks are nothing but big, bright smiles.