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Help your child face dental fear

What can parents do to help kids who are afraid of going to the dentist?

It’s important for kids to establish good dental health habits early on, but their fears of visiting the dentist sometimes can get in the way. Still, you can help manage kids’ dental anxieties by talking through worries and explaining upcoming dental procedures.

Kids who don’t go to the dentist are more likely to experience pain, tooth loss, and cavities. The good news is regular dental visits can prevent these and other oral health issues.

Many parents struggle to figure out how to help their anxious little ones feel more comfortable. When kids think their oral health is bad, they also tend to get more anxious about visiting the dentist. Still, there are things you can do to lessen your child’s worry when a dental appointment approaches.

“Coach” your kids’ emotions to help them manage fears before the visit. Validate your child’s worries by saying something such as, “It seems you’re very concerned about what it will be like to go to the dentist tomorrow.” Let your child talk about his or her feelings. And ask her or him why it might be important to visit the dentist. Reassure your child if she or he has good oral health and suggest that the appointment is to make sure nothing goes wrong in the future.

Kids can benefit from age-appropriate, realistic explanations about what to expect on their next visit. Discuss what might help him or her feel calmer and more comfortable. Let your child offer ideas first. If needed, encourage him or her to bring a favorite stuffed toy or suggest doing a fun activity afterwards, so you both have something to look forward to. Distractions, such as watching cartoons during his or her appointment, also can help relieve your child’s anxieties. And gently remind your child how the dentist can help teeth and smiles stay strong and healthy.

At home, make your kids’ oral health a priority by getting into a routine of brushing and flossing from a young age too. Doing so can help prevent tooth decay and illnesses caused by bacteria buildup in the mouth.

Oral health matters

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Learn how to take care of your teeth, gums, and mouth during deployment.

Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career, but it’s something you can prevent. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed service members are still at risk of trench mouth—technically referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD). This condition can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in your mouth.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk of trench mouth. Learn how to be proactive and prevent NPD. And schedule regular visits to your dentist when possible. 

  • Poor hygiene.
    • You might have little to no time for oral hygiene when you’re deployed, which can cause you to fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing.
    • Solution: Pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, dental floss, and a travel toothbrush in your kit, and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
  • Tobacco use.
    • Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by reducing blood flow to your gums, which can lead to tooth loss and mouth infections.
    • Solution: It’s never too late to quit. Check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
  • Poor nutrition.
    • Eating right can be challenging in the field. But not eating enough food or the right foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight oral infections.
    • Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of a home-cooked meal, they’re nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eat a variety of MREs and as many of the components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
  • Stress.
    • Too much stress can adversely affect your performance and overall health, including dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
    • Solution: Check out HPRC’s Stress Management section for ways to manage your stress. While activities like yoga, meditation, or journaling are very calming, try exercise, reading, or playing card games to help reduce stress too.

Help your children’s oral health

You can maintain and improve your children’s oral health with these simple tips.

The condition known as “dental caries” is the most common and chronic childhood illness, but you can help your child avoid it. Bacteria that build up on your children’s teeth and produce acid can destroy enamel and dentin, leading to decay, infection, and cavities. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to prevent this.

  • If your young child uses bottles, make sure you put your child to sleep without a bottle.
  • Avoid continual use of a bottle or sippy cup, especially with fluids other than water.
  • Limit sugary foods and drinks, and the latter should include only 100% juice.
    • Allow less than 4–6 oz. of 100% fruit juice per day.
    • Start brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as their teeth are visible.
      • Use no more than a pea size dot of fluoride toothpaste for children 3 and up and a dab the size of a grain of rice for younger children.
      • Take your child to a dentist before the age of one.
      • Parents and caregivers can spread bacteria to babies and children accidentally, so take care of your own teeth! And it’s a good idea not to put food or other items into your child’s mouth after they’ve been in your mouth, especially if you have a history of cavities.

If you use these simple tips, you can strengthen your child’s teeth throughout childhood. For more information, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics article “Brushing up on oral health: never too early to start.”

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