Using THE four-letter word at the Dentist, with Dr. Jason
We avoid using the word “SHOT” in our clinic. Both that word and the word "NEEDLE" have negative associations. If I hear a parent or guardian telling one of our patients that they need a “SHOT” — I say, "that is a four letter word I don’t like to have in our office!” Our kids, especially the smaller ones, have a limited vocabulary and a big imagination. Just think what kind of thoughts they might have when hearing that word. We don’t want our kids to come into their appointments already afraid and apprehensive of what will happen here at Dentistry for Kids.
As adults we can transfer our fear of the dentist to our children. Most kids have their first dental experience here at our clinic. We like to keep fear out of their experiences starting from the very beginning so that the child gains trust in the dentist and we can help them. Of course we have a variety of kids and different types of parents. But preparing for the experience can help everyone! What follows are a few reasons parents might have for using our above mentioned “four letter word”:
“We have prepared our child by telling them they will get a shot, it might hurt for a little, but it will be over soon.” — While your child may have a mature understanding of things, or like to be prepared ahead of time, this sort of information still can cause stress and most likely result in an expectation of pain for the child. Injections for baby teeth typically don’t cause much pain if they are done slowly. But the more stress a kid is under, the more they will tense up. The more tense they are, the more contracted and dense their muscles get (including facial muscles) and it is more likely they will feel the injection. If the child is relaxed, however, the injection can come through the muscle tissue basically undetected.
“I told him he wasn’t going to get a shot.” — The dentist will determine at the child's appointment if an injection is necessary. If it is determined that the shot is needed, and the parent has already promised it wouldn’t happen, then the child feels betrayed and can lose trust towards their parent. This situation can easily make the child feel that either the dentist or the parent lied.
“I told him if he didn’t behave he’s going to get a shot.” — Using the dentist causing pain as a threat does not put the child in a good position to trust the dentist. Building trust between a child and their dentist is what enables the dentist to treat the child effectively.
The most common question we are asked by parents in front of the child is “Is he going to need a shot?” or “He/she wants to know if he/she’s going to get a shot.” A more subtle way to ask this question is to pull the dentist or the dental assistant aside and ask them out of earshot of the patient. As was mentioned earlier, we don’t want to cause the child any stress. The dentist will explain everything that is happening at the appointment as it is done, so let him/her explain it with out using that dreaded four letter word.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY?
I personally like to tell the patient that I am going to be “spraying” a little bit of “sleepy water” around the area of the tooth. This “sleepy water” will help make their tooth fall asleep, kind of like when their foot falls asleep. That paints a very different picture, right? Did I lie? No, but I presented the truth of the situation in a way that didn’t cause any fear in the child. If pain is felt, I like to have the patient let me know so I can adjust it to make it feel better. This puts the child in more control of the situation and then they can trust that if it happens again, the dentist is going to help them.
We are trying to change the mentality of how we view the dentist, one child at a time. With even a little more help from our parents, we hope to create future adults who are less fearful of the dentist. And what a world that would be!