Advice For Parents: How Boost Children's Self-Esteem During Dental Work

Some children are more self-conscious than others. A simple dental procedure such as a cavity filling can leave some children feeling embarrassed. When children face more extensive procedures – such as root canals, periodontal surgery, and crowns – their self-esteem can really take a hit. They will naturally have fears about the procedure, as well. But with the right approach, you can boost your child's confidence throughout the ordeal.

Before Treatment: Discussion is Key

Your child is probably a little anxious about going to the dentist for an extensive treatment – especially if sedation or multiple visits are necessary aspects of treatment. To help alleviate these fears, be open with your child. The following should be elements of your discussion:

  • Explain Why: Explain why a treatment has to happen. Does your child have a cracked tooth, gum disease, or extensive decay that has to be addressed? This isn't the time to say something like, "If you had brushed your teeth every day, this wouldn't have happened!" Don't bring up your apprehension about the expense, either. Simply discuss what the problem is and that going to the dentist will fix it. If your child is in pain, remind your child that the procedure is meant to take the pain away.
  • Explain How: Explain how the visit and recovery will go. If your child is being sedated, let them know they'll probably sleep through the entire surgery. Confirm that you'll be there while your child is sleeping and with them when they wake up. You don't have to explain the procedure – that will only feed fears. Briefly discuss how long recovery will take and what your child will be able to eat during that time.
  • Listen: Always listen to your child's fears and offer comfort as best you can. If your child is worried about pain, help them understand that with anesthesia they won't feel anything, and afterwards they will have some medicine to help with the pain. If your child is worried about an altered appearance, let your child know they might have swelling, but it's not permanent.
  • Make a Plan: Give your child something to look forward to. Plan a trip to the zoo or a favorite park to celebrate your child's recovery. If your child is excited enough about something else, they might forget to be self-conscious or apprehensive about the dentist.

After Treatment: Show Support

Every child needs to be cheered on in life. While your child might not appreciate loud hoots and hollers, they still need to know they are supported. Quiet gestures can go a long way to boosting their self-esteem. Some tips for supporting without being overbearing are:

  • Avoid Social Media: Even if you have an adorable picture of your child with swollen cheeks, avoid posting it publicly. You might even have to hide it from your child for a few years. Resist the urge to display something that might embarrass your child and make them recede into themselves.
  • Offer Encouragement: Children recovering from dental work often need encouragement from parents more than sympathy. If you mourn that your child isn't feeling well or looks a bit different (maybe after a tooth extraction), your child will look in the mirror and see someone who simply doesn't fit in. Instead of emphasizing negative points, offer encouragement to your child. Point out how well they've behaved despite having to stay home for a few days, let them know that you can see a positive difference in their smile, encourage them to try a new flavor of smoothie (perfect for a soft-foods diet), etc.
  • Invite Friends Over: Give your child's peers a chance to reach out to your child. A positive response from them will lessen your child's worries about returning to school and social activities and will let your child know that they are loved no matter what.

Dental work should boost self-esteem as much as it improves health. If your child is facing extensive dental work and you worry that their self-confidence might suffer because of it, take opportunities to discuss with and support them. A little change in perspective might be all they need. For more information, discuss your concerns with your dentist