What if you have done all this and your child is still afraid and/or cries? "Trey wasn't initially afraid when we went to the dentist," reports Lorraine, who chose her family dentist over a pediatric one because of insurance stipulations. "The dental hygienist did most of the work and she was very age-appropriate. She talked with him about what she was going to do, then counted and polished his teeth."
But when the dentist came in, the tides turned. "He walked into the room with a mask on his face and Trey freaked out," she recalls. "He was so upset he wouldn't open his mouth and let the dentist see his teeth." The dentist grew impatient when Trey wouldn't cooperate. "That's when I knew they were done for the day. He had been sitting in that chair for 20 minutes and was already getting restless. The dentist was clearly not prepared to work with children," says Lorraine.
Therein lies the difference between a general dentist and a pediatric one. While there are wonderful family dentists who are great with kids, pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. After dental school, they have two to three years of specialty training to equip them for treating children.
"A lot of pediatric dentistry is keeping the child's mind off of what you are doing," says Griesmer. "I talk with them and provide a distraction." If the child is nervous, he asks the parent to hold the child's hands then checks and cleans the teeth. "If he is apprehensive, I just get it done as quickly as possible."
"My girls were not afraid at all," says Claire. "Maybe it was the book we read and because I told them what to expect. Or maybe it was the dentist and the fact that he was trained to work with children."
Parents need to realize that crying is a normal anxiety reaction in young children, says Wilcox. "New experiences, strange people and places fit in that category for the very young." As a parent, try not to be upset if your child cries. "The more relaxed we are—parent and dental staff—the sooner the child will overcome his or her anxiety."