Keep Kids’ Fears at Bay During Dentist Visits

Keep Kids’ Fears at Bay During Dentist Visits

Do you like going to the dentist?

Now ask your child the same ­question.

If the answers are different, give credit to the kid-friendly world of ­pediatric dentistry. With two or three years of extra training, pediatric ­dentists have transformed the dental experience for children. Family-based practices are using gentle, low-stress techniques.

“A lot of how we do this work and make kids more comfortable has to do with the many more years of training,” says Dr. John Gerstenmaier, a ­Fairlawn pediatric dentist.

Giving kids a great dental experience is more than simply providing toys and children’s magazines in the waiting room — although that’s part of it. ­Gentle techniques and the ability to read a child’s body language also play a role in helping children enjoy a ­dental visit.

“We use the tell, show, do technique,” Gerstenmaier says.“We ease into it and always talk to them about what (we’re) doing. With a change in times comes a change in techniques.”

For ­example, the dentist will show a child an instrument like the mirror and demonstrate how it can see hidden areas by demonstrating on their ­fingers.

Starting Early

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, whose specialists treat ­infants, children and adolescents, ­recommends an initial visit when the first tooth comes through and no later than a child’s first birthday. Proper care of baby teeth means healthier adult teeth.

The goals of pediatric dentistry are simple: to have non-threatening office visits, to establish good rapport with the dentist and to have a dental “home.”

Dr. Frank Radis is an Aurora ­pediatric dentist and says prevention is crucial to maintaining good oral health. Nutrition education, dental sealants and fluoride “varnish” that is painted on teeth all offer important preventive measures that can lead to a lifetime of healthy teeth — and ­pleasant dental visits.

Early appointments with a pediatric dentist usually have more to do with educating a parent than treating infant dental issues.

Parents can learn about tooth and gum care, the role of nutrition in tooth development and how to establish good oral hygiene, Gerstenmaier says. Pediatric dentists and other child-friendly dentists also treat children with special needs. Techniques such as explaining procedures and equipment are also helpful when treating these children.

Helping Kids Understand

While exam rooms may have themes, lively decorations and other cheerful décor, the most tried-and-true technique in pediatric dentistry is talking to the child, explaining everything and letting them look at the tools before they go in their mouth.

Gerstenmaier adds, for example, using dolls with silly, oversized teeth to demonstrate procedures is a friendly and non-threatening way to ease into potentially uncomfortable treatments.

Dr. Kenneth J. Wolnik of Berea is a general practice ­dentist who focuses on family dentistry. That means he treats plenty of kids along with adults. He typically starts seeing children between ages 3 and 5.

He advises to have preschoolers come along when their mom or dad is getting a routine checkup — like a cleaning — and let them watch from a nearby chair. If the child is willing, he’ll have him or her climb into the chair afterward for a “practice” visit, count their teeth and show them a couple of tools.

“I tell them the next time when you come we’re going to clean your teeth,” Wolnik says. “It’s a way to get them ­acclimated into coming into the office.”

The challenge for pediatric and family dentists is some younger children associate any type of medical office with pain. After all, visits to a general doctor can end with ­vaccinations. It can take an effort to overcome their fear of people in medical scrubs, coats and masks.

“Kids that age are so used to going to the doctor and getting shots,” he adds. A “practice” visit with just a hygienist can help. “It relieves them of the fear factor.”

Want to find the best dentist for your child? Ask friends, get a referral from the AAPD website ( or consider your own dentist if he or she caters to families.

Tell-show-do dentistry is creating a new generation of fear-free dental patients. In dentistry, early intervention can make the best first impression.

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