My teenage daughter told me the dentist numbed her mouth, then left her sitting in the chair alone for nearly an hour. When the dental assistant finally returned to the room, she told my daughter the office was double booked for the day, and they would have to reschedule her filling.
"I took the day off school to do this," my daughter mumbled through her numbed mouth. "I can't reschedule for another day."
The dentist and his assistant came back to the room and filled my daughter's tooth -- without speaking to her. Actually, she said they sat on opposite sides of the chair and argued with each other the entire time they worked.
"I don't want to go back to that dentist again," she told me when she got home.
"Don't worry. We won't," I answered.
For many people, few events cause as much worry as a visit to the dentist's office. Fortunately, introducing your child to a good dentist early can help avoid much of the anxiety associated with the dentist's chair.
"First tooth, first visit," advises Shannon, a dental hygienist. She explains that parents should take their children to the dentist as soon as the first baby tooth is on display.
At a first dental visit, the dentist will likely sit knee-to-knee with the parent with the baby lying across both adults' laps. The goal of the first visit is to help the child be comfortable with the bright lights and unfamiliar environment of the dentist's office. This time also allows the dentist to look for any developmental habits, like pacifier or thumb-sucking, that may affect tooth formation in the future and to advise parents on future dental care.
As children grow and teeth develop, Shannon recommends scheduling regular dental visits every six months. She also advises taking children to a family dentist, instead of one who specializes in pediatric dentistry, as soon as the child has all permanent teeth.
Your dentist may suggest several treatments to protect teeth as the child grows. Sealants are applied to 6 year molars and 12 year molars. These protective covers seal out bacteria and prevent decay from growing in the grooves of teeth. Fluoride treatments are brushed onto chewing surfaces of teeth once a year to protect teeth from decay.
If a cavity is diagnosed, it is best to get the decay taken care of while it is small and does not affect the pulp or healthy part of the tooth. Once decay goes into the dentin, the second layer of the tooth, the cavity will grow and possibly spread to surrounding teeth as well. If that happens, a child may need general anesthesia to allow the dentist to repair and fill several cavities at once. Extensive dental repairs are painful and can make children afraid to return to the dentist in the future.
However, many families don't have dental insurance. I had selected the angry dentist who argued across his dental chair because he was one who advertised "No insurance necessary" services.
"Call your dentist and ask the cost of services like cleaning and exams," suggests Shannon. "Then set money aside every month for the dental expenses of the family. It is more expensive in the long run to skip dental check-ups and have to pay for fillings later." As another alternative, Shannon recommends visiting dental hygienist schools and training programs for low-cost preventative care. Colleges that train dental assistants offer cleanings, X-rays, and sealants at reasonable prices.
The Healthy Smiles Project and the Healthy Teeth website offer games, activities, and coloring pages that help teach children to care for their own smiles. Verywell.com posts articles on dental care and other health issues for young children.
Shannon suggests that parents ask around when searching for the right dentist. "The experiences and word of mouth referrals of other people make great recommendations."
After my daughter's experience with the angry dentist, I refuse to go to any dentist who doesn't make me feel cared for and comfortable. I reserved money from each year's tax refund to pay for our cleanings and checkups. I found a dentist who told jokes across his dental chair and made his patients smile.
How have you helped your children feel more comfortable about going to the dentist?