Reducing Children’s Dental Phobias, Part 1: The Tell-Show-Do Technique

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It is well understood that dental anxieties and phobias in adults result in the avoidance of dental care.  Furthermore, it is often the case that dental fears in adults are caused by unaddressed fears or instilled traumas associated with dental care in children.  

Pediatric dentists receive specialty training in a variety of psychotherapeutic interventions to help reduce dental anxieties in children.  After all, it is a natural and reasonable response for any adult, much less a child, to not want someone new getting too close to them, or placing unknown objects near them, or examining them in unfamiliar ways.  And so to help children overcome these very natural phobias, pediatric dentists are trained to do the same things proven to help reduce anyone’s fears regarding the unknown.  Through education and familiarization, human beings of any age can be shown how to trust in new environments.  

Pediatric dentists use a variety of psychotherapeutic interventions, or behavioral modification techniques, to help assist in this process of education and familiarization.  These techniques can also be used by parents to not only reduce dental fears, but encourage any number of positive behaviors in their children.  Today, we will discuss one such technique referred to as ‘tell-show-do’.  

The Tell-Show-Do Method

The tell-show-do method is a process of stepwise familiarization that helps accommodate children to any of the various aspects of a new dental environment such as dental instruments and procedures.  Generally, this technique first involves an explanation as to what a process involves (telling), then a demonstration of how that process appears (showing), and lastly, the performance of the process itself (doing).  For instance, a pediatric dentist may first introduce a dental explorer (a dental exam instrument) to a child by referring to it as “Dora the Dental Explorer”.  Then, the pediatric dentist may proceed to show the child how the dental instrument goes over the surfaces of teeth on a large model tooth.  Lastly, if the child has demonstrated that they are now comfortable and familiar with the new dental instrument, the dentist may carefully proceed to use the dental instrument in order to examine the child’s teeth. 

How Parents Can Use the Tell-Show-Do Method at Home

The tell-show-do method is an effective technique that parents should likely utilize at home as well.  On one hand, it can further help children prepare for their dental appointments and ensure a positive experience.  The tell-show-do method can be used by parents to help teach children how to brush, floss, or eat healthier foods.  In fact, it can be used as a means of helping encourage any positive behavior in a child.  Even teenagers sometimes need to be introduced to novel concepts they may otherwise be afraid of, such as doing their homework or performing household chores!  

So feel free to let Dr. Mike know about the creative ways that you have been able to help encourage positive behaviors in your children using the tell-show-do technique.

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