Q: [Teens & Tweens] I struggle with fear of the dentist and skipped my semi-annual appointment. My husband says I am setting a bad example, but I bring my kids like clockwork. I brush, I floss — it doesn’t really matter if skip a few appointments, does it?
A: Research indicates that children learn attitudes about dental health through observation. When examining the relationship between a parent and their child’s dental visits, findings show that when parents don’t go to the dentist, their children are less likely to do so, as well.
There are many factors that contribute to whether or not people visit the dentist as often as recommended, including lack of time, financial constraints, and fear. Whatever may be keeping you from the dental chair will probably shape your child’s attitude about the dentist as well.
Here are some important tips to encourage healthy dental habits for parents and children:
- Have a good attitude about the dentist. Kids pick up on more than we realize, so be mindful when talking about visiting the dentist. Always be as encouraging and positive as possible.
- Show off healthy dental habits. Demonstrate healthy dental habits — brush and floss after every meal, avoid cavity-forming foods and drinks, and visit the dentist as recommended. Children are significantly more likely to follow that path if you do as well.
- Fear going to the dentist? Bring the kids. When parents have a fear of the dentist I would encourage them to bring their children for a visit. It promotes bravery in the parent when their kids are watching and learning from the positive example being set.
- Make it a family affair. Try to schedule appointments for children and parents at the same time, whether it’s the same day or the same week. This will help establish a routine and get children familiar with the idea of regularly scheduled visits.
- Consider hosting a nightly “brush along”. Have the whole family listen to a 2-minute song while brushing their teeth. This makes the process of brushing fun, and shows that everyone — even parents — can enjoy practicing great oral health habits.
Dr. Harvey Lee, Chief of Pediatric Dentistry with Smile Wide Dental, is a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, where he now is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Pediatric Dentistry. SmileWideDental.com