Parents work hard to insure their child follows good oral hygiene, making sure they brush daily and watching what their children eats, especially trying to avoid a lot of sugary snacks.  Sometimes however, despite a parent’s best efforts, a child gets a cavity.  Now what?

First understand that just because a child gets a cavity, it doesn’t necessarily mean poor dental hygiene was to blame, or that the child was lax about brushing and flossing.  Children can get cavities despite good dental habits.  This can be due to childhood illness, an overall increase in the amount of sugar children consume, or one of several other factors.

Once a child gets a cavity, probably a discovery by your pediatric dentist, it is likely that they’ll need to get a filling.  The best way to prepare your child for this situation is to start providing them with very basic information on what a cavity is, why they need a filling, and what the procedure will entail.  While some parents feel it’s a good time to talk about the consequences of poor brushing habits, many professionals agree that framing the experience in terms of pain or punishment is not a good idea. Now is not the time to tell your child, “You don’t brush your teeth and now you need to get a filling at the dentist!”

Instead, calmly explain to your child what they will expect during the process.  Many reputable pediatric dentists are willing to have a child come in for a pre-visit to explain the procedure in very simply, easy to understand terms. Some have pictures, books, or models that show a child exactly what will happen.  The more that can be done ahead of time to ease a child’s mind about getting a filling, the better the day of the appointment will be.

When it’s time to actually get the procedure done, give you and your child plenty of time to get to the appointment to avoid additional anxiety.  This gives them an opportunity to get to the dentist’s office early, relaxing in the waiting room, reading books, and getting accustom to the office prior to going in and seeing the dentist.  When you’re finally in the room with the child, avoid comments such as, “Don’t be scared” or “this will be over soon” as it will only elevate the child’s anxiety. Instead try to be positive about the experience such as “This will make the pain go away” or other positive affirmation comments.

One of the first steps before drilling is to numb the child’s mouth in the area of the procedure.  Many reputable pediatric dentists will use nitrous sedation for this, and for the most part, children don’t find this as intimidating as a large shot into the gums that most adults get.  However, some children may find the numbing sensation unusual, so again, it’s important to positively set their expectation on why they’re numb, and how long it will last. And of course, talk with them about not biting or chewing the affected area so they don’t hurt themselves!

If your child has multiple cavities to be treated, talk with the pediatric dentist as to whether they should all be treated in one visit, or if a follow-up visit should be scheduled.  If your child has special needs or intellectual disabilities, it may be best to find a pediatric dentist specializing in special needs patients. They are best suited to advise how to handle procedures for your child in this situation.

Whether your 40 years old or 4 years old, no one enjoys going to the dentist.  However, everyone understands the importance of good dental hygiene, so making sure your child has a positive experience during their dental visit will insure good oral health for years to come.