Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Overcoming A Child's Fear of the Dentist

My 8-year-old daughter suffers from anxiety and one of the things that she worries about the most, is taking a trip to the dentist! Naturally, the majority of us would rather do almost anything than spend an hour at the dentist's office, but this goes beyond that for my girl. We had our 6 month appointments last week, and she saw that on the calendar as soon as we flipped over to November -- and she perseverated about it ever since. To add to her anxiety about a trip to the dentist, she has a loose tooth and she will not let anyone near it and was terrified that the dentist would pull the tooth. We tried to remind her over and over that she's been to see the dentist with a loose tooth on two other occasions -- both times he left the tooth in her mouth and told her to eat a Popsicle (or something very cold to numb her mouth) and then to bite into an apple -- he assured her that she would find the tooth sticking in the apple -- how simple is that? No way... She would not try this method, and left herself (and her family...) in AGONY waiting for the tooth to somehow fall out on its own. And, she would not take our word that this is what has happened two times in the past year and a half, and certainly, this is what would happen again.

She has other fears about the dentist -- biting down on the x-ray film with her loose tooth; sitting back in the chair (this was a BIG one a couple of years ago -- couldn't even get her to let the put the chair back even an inch... I tried to point out that she leans back farther in the recliner at home! I finally stepped away on that one and the dentist and hygienist worked their magic with the chair); and a fear of being told that she has a cavity. She wrote a letter to the dentist, which I brought and gave to him at our appointment. It stated that she has a very loose tooth that would hurt a LOT if he were to pull it out, and she requested that he PLEASE not touch it! She ended the letter with an artist's rendering of her mouth and teeth, an arrow drawn to the tooth in question, and a conversation bubble saying "OW! Please don't pull me out!" Fortunately, our dentist took it in stride and said, "Great! More fan mail!"

We tried to make her as comfortable as possible. We always bring her own toothpaste (which has fluoride and is recommended by the dentist -- but it's a flavor of her choice and she likes it better than the dentist's toothpaste). We also tried to address her fears -- I spoke with the hygienist and confirmed that my girl had had x-rays at her previous appointment and there was no need to do them at this time. At least we could alleviate that anxiety while she has the loose tooth! The dentist did not pull her tooth (as we had told her he wouldn't...) but when he gently touched the tooth, he said he saw her eyes dart up to him like, "I've got my eye on you!"

At the end of the appointment, she was chattering away, all happy -- it had not been anywhere near as traumatic as she had worked it up to be in her mind. I came up with an idea -- she would not believe us when we told her that the dentist was a nice man and that going to see him is not that scary -- perhaps she would believe herself! When we got home, I had her write herself a letter to tell herself that going to the dentist is not so bad! I told her that I will save the letter for her and the next time we go to the dentist, I will pull the letter out for her to read. She wrote a letter "To 9-year-old Livvie, from 8-year-old Livvie." (Because her birthday is next month...) In her letter, she told herself to "Cool it!" The dentist is a nice guy and she should be brave like she was when she finally jumped off the diving board! This is a definite keeper... I'll let you know if it does the trick in 6 months!

What tips do you have for getting your little ones through a trip to the dentist?


Christine said...

Ha! I love that she told herself to "Cool It" she cracks me up!

I think I should write myself a letter like this when I'm feeling good so that I can remember when I'm feeling bad that I just need to "cool it!"

Kristin said...

I can just picture her writing both of those letters, one to the dentist and the other to the "9 year old self", very cute and a cleaver idea by both of you. I'm glad she's starting to get a grip with the dentist thing. Having good teeth is important. :)

The Fine Art of Motherhood said...

Chris -- I'll be happy to hold onto your letter too! ;)

Yes, Kristin, we have discussed at great length that these are things we need to do to stay healthy -- baby steps though!