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After years of taking a low-key, no-big-deal attitude with my kids that a visit to the dentist was routine and nothing to worry about, I cringed at a dental visit a few years back.
As we walked into the waiting room, a young child could be heard wailing — loudly — in back. My kids gave me a nervous glance; I tried to laugh it off as an unhappy camper.
Luckily, the experience was not scarring. Neither of my kids is fearful of our dentist, who to his credit is warm and gentle with kids.
It’s a tender subject, fear at the dentist office. That’s why I found a November news brief in the Wall Street Journal particularly interesting. In a study of Spanish families, researchers determined that the parent who sets the stage for dental fear is Dear Old Dad.
Surveying 183 Madrid children and their families, the Spanish researchers reported in a review for the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry that dental fear among mothers and fathers breeds fear in their children.
“But the strongest predictor of a child’s dental fears,” the WSJ reported, “was the fearfulness of the father, suggesting that kids most often take their cues from dad with respect to how much they need to worry about a dental visit.”
The harm (as any dentist could predict) is a fearful young patient who grows into a fearful adult who avoids oral healthcare. Not a good path.
A mom I know said her kids don’t worry about a visit to the dentist: their grandfather is a dentist who has some tricks up his sleeve to set little minds at ease. Telling kids he needs to count their teeth, the children open wide. Grandma assures them she’s “tickling” their teeth during polishing.
To be sure, there are other methods.
Fred Margolis, a pediatric dentist for nearly 40 years in Chicago’s north suburbs, has pioneered several techniques aimed at reducing the noise or pain associated with treatment for children.
In his office, Dr. Margolis hands his young patients a welcome letter and a computer-generated, personalized book about going to the dentist. He also uses puppets and earphones to distract and put kids at ease.
Dr. Margolis even teaches a course on behavior modification techniques to use when treating youngsters, covering everything from when to have parents in the operatory and voice intonation to more technical tips about radiographic techniques, body wraps and ways to give “painless" injections.
Fear of the dentist almost always is based on past experience, Dr. Margolis says, such as that painful cavity filled in early childhood. “And for younger children, it’s the fear of the unknown.”
The Spanish researchers pinpointed some helpful tips for the home front.
“Parents are key,” wrote one of the authors. “They should appear relaxed as a way of ensuring the child is relaxed too.” Fathers, especially, should attend dentist appointments “and display no signs of fear or anxiety.”
Dentists, give your dads out there a message: Man up. For your kids’ sake.
The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society. © 2013, Chicago Dental Society
Image: Copyright: Everett Collection / Shutterstock Images
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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