A Positive Experience
At Johnson Pediatric Dentistry Dr. Cody believes it is critical that children attach a positive association with their first dental experience. There are many reasons for this, but none more important than teaching a child not to fear the dentist. This is arguably the most important reason a child should begin dental care as soon as the first teeth emerge. The younger a child is when introduced to the dental office, the easier it is for them to develop a positive association with it. Another very important reason is the chance we can detect and manage early signs of oral disease or abnormalities before they become a more difficult problem to solve. If you have experienced a cavity as a child, chances are you don’t have a particularly fond memory of it. It is likely the negative experience shaped the way you feel every time you go to (or even think about) the dentist. Having children experience success at the dentist’s office before they have a dental problem allows them to conquer their fear of the unknown, builds their confidence and ultimately empowers them. Admittedly, not all parts of a checkup are inherently enjoyable, especially the first time, but familiarizing kids with the process at a very young age gives them a chance to build a set of emotional coping skills. The more positive and successful visits, the less likely they will ever develop anxiety over a trip to the dentist. This is a concept known as “latent inhibition” and is best described as giving a child an emotional emergency tool kit should they ever need to undergo treatment to fix a cavity or repair an injured tooth.
Avoiding Dental Anxiety
The outdated recommendation, to wait until a child is older, greatly increases the chance that a child’s first visit to the dentist will be the result of a problem. If a child is introduced to dental care for the first time because of an issue like a painful tooth, swollen mouth or traumatic dental injury, it attaches a negative association (e.g., pain, fear) to the experience. This reduces the effect of latent inhibition and greatly increases the risk of developing long-term phobia and dental anxiety.
Dr. Cody is passionate about providing a positive dental experience and developing a trusting, supportive relationship with children and their families and believes it is the key to a lifetime of good oral health, and the best way to eliminate dental fear and anxiety as a child progresses through life.