Anxiety-related to a dental visit is typically high, but these feelings can be even more intense for a minor sitting in the dental chair. Treating a child with dental anxiety presents a completely different set of problems compared to treating an adult patient. Establishing comfort and routine during a child’s dental visit can have lifelong effects, so here are some tips for ways to simplify your job as a pediatric dentist, hygienist, or another dental care worker.
Overview of Information
One of the most important ways to make children more comfortable with any dental procedure- from routine cleaning to intense extractions or cavity fillings- is to seek to provide the child with an adequate description of what will happen before the procedure. Informing the child of what will happen from arrival at the dental office through the final check out will have a significant amount of impact on the child’s anxiety level and fear management. Most of a child’s anxiety truly comes from fear of the unknown.
Detailed Information Throughout
Although detailed information before the procedure is a good place to start, the sharing should not end there. Providing reminders throughout the procedure will continue to help keep fear at bay. Continuing to explaining the next steps as well as what you are currently doing is an impactful way to keep your young patient calm.
Show and Tell
In addition to telling the patient in an age-appropriate manner, it is wise to also sometimes show the patient what is to come in the dental procedure. For example, if suction is being used, it may be helpful to describe the noise before turning the machine on as well as to allow the patient to touch the suction with his or her fingertip (while changing the tools for appropriate sanitary purposes).
Check for Feedback
It is also important to ensure that the information is age-appropriate and understood by checking for feedback. Paying attention to the child’s body language as well as his or her facial expressions may allow you to stave off a moment of anxiety before it even happens.
Parental feedback is a great way to check in on your young patient. Sometimes it may be difficult to ascertain if your patient is anxious or hyperactive. Communicating with the parent and checking for feedback is a phenomenal way to determine if your patient is fully aware of what is going on in the dental office.
Leading your young patient through relaxation measures and breathing exercises may not only help the child through his or her current experience but also may help with future visits to the dentist as well as other anxiety-ridden situations. Deep breathing is a technique that can be easily modeled for even the youngest patients and can significantly impact the experience for you and your patient.
As with almost any activity, offering the enticement of a gift or prize at the end of the experience is a great way to not only get a child to listen and follow instructions but also to sit calmly throughout the procedure.
When you have the parents involved, the child sees you as an ally or a friend, depending on their age. Sometimes children are still experiencing feelings that make them unsure about strangers so having the child being soothed by the parent while you conduct your procedure provides a much more pleasant experience for the child. Sometimes, having the parent sit in the chair with their child in their lap can help diffuse an escalating situation.
Distraction is another way to keep a proactively keep a patient calm. Before the visit, ask the parents to bring the child’s favorite toy or stuffed animal. Not only does this serve as a distraction but can also bring physical comfort for the child. Sometimes having the child think about a positive experience, such as a birthday party or vacation becomes a way to escape the current reality.
Engage in Conversation
Depending on the age of the child, engaging in unrelated conversation (before inserting instruments into the mouth) can be enough of a distraction to keep the child’s mind off of the procedure.