A Traumatic Visit to the Dentist

Q. Before taking our 3-year-old to her first dental appointment, we read books to her about what to expect. Nevertheless, she screamed and fought. I wanted to take her home, but our family dentist insisted she wasn't in pain and we should hold her down in the chair. Was that the right thing to do?

A. Gentle parental restraint isn't a problem in itself -- you'd do the same if your daughter were getting an immunization or a blood test. "As the parent, though, you have to judge whether she's really hysterical or just mad because she doesn't like what's happening and she's not in control," says Mary J. Hayes, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist in the Chicago area and spokeswoman for the American Dental Association. It's important to proceed with the visit if your child is just acting out.

But if your child seems truly terrified, it's probably wise to regroup and use a different approach. Ask the dentist to describe each stage of the evaluation and cleaning, perhaps using a puppet as a patient while your child watches and asks questions. However, if the dentist doesn't agree with that plan, you might want to switch to a pediatric dentist, who'll have more experience dealing with apprehensive kids.

Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the August 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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