Fear-free from the start – how children are introduced to the dentist

The fear of visiting a dentist is so widespread in Germany that it is almost considered normal. Many children are afraid of going to the dentist, although they have neither bad personal experiences with toothache nor painful treatment.

The at first glance unfounded fear of visiting the dentist or of certain treatment methods and instruments is often passed on from parents to their children. Sometimes this happens unconsciously, as a reflection and shadow of their own fears. Sometimes, however, there is a dubious system behind it: Quite a few parents threaten their children with a dentist. They create frightening images of syringes, drills and forceps to warn the child of the consequences of poor oral hygiene.

Such “black pedagogy” has a long tradition, although as a method it functions demonstrably poorly. Because what systematically frightens us does not enable us to take the desired actions. Unfortunately, both the fear and the fear of the dentist have had time to multiply and establish themselves for many generations: In recent surveys, around 35 percent of Germans said that they were very afraid of going to the dentist.

Many interviewees have had bad experiences as children at the dentist – for example with a painful filling or syringe or the mostly inappropriate treatment atmosphere of the 1970s and 1980s. Others “inherited” the phobia from their parents, who in turn brought it with them from the dental practices of the war and post-war years.

If you don’t go to the dentist for fear, your problems get worse.

A dull feeling, a bad presentiment or concrete unpleasant expectations of the dentist’s appointment may be explainable and understandable. Although the actual dental treatment is generally completely painless thanks to modern sedation and anaesthesia procedures (e.g. general anaesthesia, nitrous oxide or hypnosis for anxious patients), depending on the findings and prognosis it can lead to pain, protracted follow-up treatments and, last but not least, high costs for dental prostheses.

Good oral hygiene and prophylaxis as well as regular free check-ups are the best way to avoid tooth decay, gum problems, toothache and expensive dental treatments right from the start. Unfortunately, people who suffer from severe dental anxiety or dental phobia tend to postpone treatment more and more and thus worsen existing dental problems. Because of their own fears, many only introduce their children to the dentist once they have already suffered from toothache or clearly advanced tooth damage.

If you’re not afraid of the dentist today, you don’t have to be afraid later.

In order to break the vicious circle of dental anxiety, today children are sensitively introduced to the treatment by the dentist. A practice atmosphere suitable for children, understandable explanations and the opportunity to examine the dentist’s chair and the instruments before the treatment allow children to quickly forget their fear and make a relaxed prophylaxis or treatment session possible. In order to make it possible for parents to visit the dentist without fear, the whole family is accompanied, cared for and informed empathetically if necessary.

In the first years of life, the foundation stone is laid for beautiful and permanently healthy teeth. It has been scientifically proven that children with healthy milk teeth later have fewer caries on their permanent teeth. Children need a positive and optimistic attitude towards their teeth and their health so that they do not have any fear at the dentist and enjoy dental care and oral hygiene at home. Parents can (and should) live this by brushing their teeth regularly, cleaning the interdental spaces and going to the dentist twice a year together with their children.

Children’s teeth are different from adults’ teeth. The paediatric dentist knows which brushing technique is best and can explain and show it as part of the prophylaxis examination. If a dental treatment is due, e.g. because of caries, the doctor explains sensitively, but always truthfully, what he will do next and why this will help. For small patients with large dental problems or children who are so afraid of the dentist that normal treatment is not possible, there is the possibility of dental treatment under general anesthesia.

Every dentist knows his patients are scared.

Not only a paediatric dentist specializing in children’s treatment is aware of the fears and insecurities of his patients. So you can be sure that your dentist knows exactly what you are afraid of and why. In fact, there are many dentists who are themselves afraid of going to the dentist or who regret that they cannot treat themselves. After all, dental treatment takes place in the mouth, one of the most sensitive parts of our body.

Anxiety-free treatment is usually trouble-free and therefore has a better chance of success. This is why overcoming the fear of starting treatment is desirable both for the doctor and for the patient. Many dentists today attend special psychological seminars to learn how to help young or elderly patients overcome their dental anxiety with different techniques and relaxation methods.

Because of their curiosity, their imagination and their spontaneous enthusiasm and willingness to cooperate, children usually get over their fear quickly. They also like to be distracted by obviously unfounded fears, while adults tend to hold on to them. Some large practices or treatment centres therefore employ a psychologist who prepares anxiety and panic patients intensively for the treatment and also assists them sensitively and professionally during the treatment.

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Christina Cherry
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