In part 1 and 2 of our series on your child’s first dental visit, we talked about the right time to take your child to the dentist for the first time and how to best prepare your child for this. Today we discuss techniques dentists use to build trust with their new little patients.
As dentists, we are trained to treat patients young and old. However, from the first time we step into the clinic, we will quickly realise the enormous difference between the specific needs of our adult patients versus our smaller ones.
There are numerous “tricks of the trade” dentists swear by to help them build trust with their young patients. Below are just some of the most common techniques that we have found useful in our long experience as family dentists, here at Grange Family Dental. Abiding by these rules has meant that we are confident a child will leave our practice feeling more positive and more comfortable about the idea of seeing a dentist than when they walked in.
We never lie to a child
No long term relationship would work if it’s started on a lie. We never ever lie to the child even if it’s to achieve a short term result. There are many ways to get your child to cooperate with the treatment, lying to them is the worst option. It will only work once and will destroy their ability to trust any health professionals in the long run.
We will always try to explain in simple terms what we are going to do
Even if you need to administer a local anaesthetic and you know they won’t like it, it’s still better for them to know what to expect rather than get surprised halfway through the procedure. A child’s instinct when confronted with something unexpected is to struggle and to find out what’s going on. Imagine they look up and see the dentist wielding a syringe which they didn’t mention before, they will now no doubt dread the dentist’s every move even if it will genuinely not hurt one bit.
Always be ready to stop
In the early stage of building trust, your child is likely to enquire every little feeling they suspect as a threat. A patient dentist should be ready to stop and explain in simply child friendly analogies what’s going on to build long term trust. Pushing a child past their comfort zone will mean that they remain fearful of the dentist and no trust will be built over time.
Bribery is ok – sometimes
When dealing with older kids who are simply scared of the unknown, we will occasionally suggest the parents offer a little “bribe”. This only works when the dentist is confident they can also deliver on their promise as well – for example, “this won’t hurt one bit and if you hold still, we will have a little gift for you”. Don’t offer a bribe for everything as it’s meant to be a tool to build trust, not as a trade off with the child every time. You wouldn’t offer your child an incentive every time for behaving well at home so you also wouldn’t do that for them to behave at the dentist.
Create a child friendly environment
If your child walks through our front door and all they can see are toys, iPad and other things that they wish they had at home, you have just won half the battle. Straight away, your child will not fight you when you say “let’s go to the dentist”. We have had many appointments where the promise of been “next on the iPad” helped overcome any fear they had with meeting the dentist for the first time.
Ultimately, it’s like parenting – if you want to foster a long term healthy relationship with your child, then positive reinforcement is always the first tool of choice. The pointers we listed above are just a snapshot of some key factors in fostering a child’s confidence in their dentist, the more critical part is still in the application of the skills.
A good dentist should be prepared to spend the time to foster a relationship with your child, pay attention to their body language so they know when something has past their comfort zone and stop immediately.