4 Tips for Dental Assistants: Managing Children’s Fears
Oct. 29, 2015
If thereâs one universal truth â across cultures and time zones â itâs that kids hate to go to the dentist, right? Well, weâre here to calibrate you! According to a study published in the European Journal of Dentistry in 2011, a survey of 583 school-aged children ages 9-12 found that only 12 percent said they were afraid of going to the the dentist while 64 percent said they liked it. The most commonly cited reasons for being afraid of dental visits were local anesthesia and having a tooth pulled. Interestingly, 90 percent preferred that the dentist wear a white coat. This study doesnât reflect the attitudes of younger children, and one might assume that the percentage of those with a fear of the dentist would be somewhat higher, though not necessarily greatly so. But the reality is, if youâre training to be a dental assistant or a dental hygienist, especially if youâre specializing in the pediatric field, youâre going to be seeing some frightened kids. This is where your compassion can help. Learning how to manage the situation effectively can make the difference between not only a pleasant experience and a disaster, but will also shape attitudes towards dental care that will last a lifetime.
4 TECHNIQUES FOR MANAGING ANXIETYLuckily, lots of other dental professionals have gone through this before you, and theyâre more than happy to share their experiences and lessons learned. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has some recommendations. These include:
- Explain the procedure. Kids are afraid of the unknown, and theyâre much more likely to relax if they know what to expect. Tell them in advance what youâre going to do and how it will feel using age appropriate language and communication techniques. Use visual examples rather than verbal language, for example. Donât tell them it wonât hurt if you know there might be some discomfort.
- Use distraction. Getting the childâs mind off of the situation can be useful. Some dentists even keep some small toys handy to give the child during the procedure, partly as a distraction, and partly as a reward for cooperation. Asking them about a recent event in their life, like a birthday party or a trip to the zoo, can keep them occupied or give them a task to perform, like counting backward from 100. They canât talk during the procedure, but it will help to keep their mind busy.
- Practice positive reinforcement. Praise the child during the procedure for their good behavior, and use small rewards as mentioned above.
- Ask the parent to help. Obviously having the childâs parent in the room will help to lessen anxiety, generally.