Q: Hey Doc, my husband just took our 3-year old to the dentist and she freaked out. She came home terrified. I don’t want to scar her for life, what can I do? 

A: Sorry to hear your little one had such a bad experience. You didn’t mention if this was her first visit. Sometimes a first visit to the dentist can be scary just because of the unfamiliar environment. 

If you put yourself in her shoes you would see that there are all kinds of new sights, smells, bright lights and friendly albeit unfamiliar faces. The best way to ensure your child has a successful visit to the dentist is to reassure them and to explain what will take place. If you visit your local library there are many books for children about going to the dentist for the first time. Also, since your daughter came back from her first visit so fearful and afraid, I would advise talking to her and find out why she had such a bad experience. 

It is essential that no one (parent, sibling, grandparent, etc.) is imprinting their fear of the dentist onto your daughter. This may be an unconscious statement or remark about a past experience, a feeling toward having dental treatment done or a casual remark about what may happen at during a dental visit. Or, you may be surprised; it might be something really silly that never would have entered your mind. Here’s an example. I was treating a child that was reluctant about having their treatment done. I explained that we would get it done really fast. Well, that child burst into tears, became very upset and wouldn’t stop crying. Once his mom and I got him calmed down and asked him why he was so upset. He said he didn’t want it to go fast. Do you see what I mean? That was the only thing bothering him; the speed in which I was going to get in and out of the office. That is why it is so important to discuss the problem and find out why the child is so afraid or upset. 

If left alone, bad childhood dental experiences can lead to a severe and profound fear of the dentist and dental treatment that can develop into serious problems later in life. It is of utmost importance that the child has positive experiences at the dentist. A check-up and cleaning can usually accomplish this easily. Make sure that you let the dentist and hygienist know that your child had a bad experience at their last visit. Get them comfortable slowly. Unless your child is in pain or having an emergency there is no reason to rush or push them into having treatment that is scary or uncomfortable for them. That could make the situation worse than it is already. Instead patience, understanding and explaining what is going to be done can go a long way toward making sure your child fear of the dentist was a solitary event and doesn’t affect them later