For some people a visit to the dentist is an experience that is overwhelming and scary. Fear is real, fear can be debilitating. It is a natural powerful and also innate human emotion. It is the body’s way of alerting us to real or imagined danger to avoid harm or suffering.
People learn to fear the dentist from an early age as children. Sometimes parents instill this fear in children as they threaten them with a visit to the dentist to conform to good behavior. At other times, our friends share their experiences which may not have been pleasant. This cycle of fear unfortunately grows from then well into adulthood and is responsible for the many adults keeping very bad teeth and poor oral hygiene.
Proper dental training of children by parents shouldn’t be in the direction of instilling fear nor in eradicating it totally (Fear is inborn and also a survival mechanism), but rather in channeling it toward real dangers and away from situations where there is no eminent danger.
A dental visit should never be employed by parents as a threat or to imply a punishment. Children, and also many adults, have an intense fear of the unknown and or the unexpected. It is for this reason that it is a good practice that the initial visit to the dentist happens as early in life as possible, usually before 2 years and ideally shouldn’t involve extensive problems that need the dentist to do potentially painful procedures. This helps the dentist to gradually introduce the client to dental procedures slowly increasing the range of services as may be necessary for the patient.
From 4 years onward, if a child has been properly exposed to dental checkups, parents ideally should only accompany the child into the surgery if requested by the dentist, and even then, they should sit as passive guests. This approach helps to boost the confidence of the child patient.
If flattery is to be used, the child should not be praised as an individual but instead the praise should be directed to the compliant behavior the child shows sitting independently in the dentists chair.
The patient should not be bribed to induce compliance. A bribe is a promise or a gift given before the procedure is done. Instead, a reward can be given after good cooperation has been attained from the patient. In child psychology, a reward produces positive inducement to repeat the behavior in the hope of being rewarded, and at the end of it all, this will ensure cooperation from the patient. Ultimately, when children are trained not to fear the dentist, they will grow up into responsible adults who practice good oral hygiene and are more likely to teach the same to their offspring.
As we in the dental fraternity prepare to celebrate 60 years of dentistry in Uganda this coming July 2022, we hope to shine more light upon good oral hygiene practices for all Ugandans. Visit your dentist once every six months and ask about recommended oral health habits.
By Dr. Ntulume Davis
Senior Dental Surgeon, Nakasero HospitalMember of the Uganda Dental Association