How to Manage Your Child’s Fear of the Dentist
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
Does your child get anxious about going to the dentist? Rest assured, it is perfectly normal – in fact, almost 20% of school age children are afraid of visiting the dentist. Whether its fear of being separated from their parents or a fear of the unknown, there are steps you can take to help them manage their fear and have a successful, happy visit to the dentist.
Start your child’s visits young
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children have their first dental appointment by their first birthday or within 6 months after their first tooth appears. By visiting the dentist early, your child will be able to have a positive experience that will put them at ease for future visits.
Give them as much information as possible
Children, especially ones with anxiety, tend to do better when they have a sense of predictability. They are much more likely to tolerate a procedure when they have been told in advance what to expect. Parents can help with this by describing what will happen during their visit and also what sensations the child might experience (specifically, what type of noises he might hear, what type of vibrations he might feel, or what he might taste). Make sure to avoid using words like “hurt”, “shot” or “painful”. It is always good to remind your child that they can ask the dentist questions too! Pediatric dentists are trained to describe procedures to children in nonthreatening ways. At Capital City Pediatric Dentistry, we always use kid-friendly terminology (i.e. “sugar bugs” for cavities) and employ a “Tell Show Do” approach, telling your child what we are going to do and showing them how we are going to do it before we do it.
Prepare them in advance
By reading dental storybooks or watching videos with a positive dental visit experience to your child before their visit, they are less likely to be anxious and may even look forward to it. You can also play “dentist” at home, or play a fun dental app like the Toothsavers Brushing Game to get them excited about their own dental care.
Use Relaxation Techniques
Simple relaxation techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, which involve deep inhalations and slow exhalations in a paced manner, or progressive muscle relaxation where your child tenses a group of muscles as they breathe in, and relaxes them as they breathe out, may also be helpful.
Distraction is one of the most effective techniques we employ in our office during your child’s visit. By singing, talking, and having the TV playing during your child’s procedure, their visit is over before they know it. Dr. Robin Croswell, DDS, PA says “We pride ourselves on our patient relations with our staff. We strive to create a fun atmosphere to work in and for patients to be in. Don’t be surprised if you catch us singing and dancing!”
Providing incentives for “brave” behavior can be useful for cooperation. This includes compliments, praise, “prizes” like stickers or temporary tattoos, or a simple smile to reinforce positive behavior.
Parents can help by modeling good behavior and staying upbeat. If your child does become overly anxious, remain calm and do your best to tolerate your child’s distress. Warmly insist they experience a success before they get to leave, even if that success is a small one.
Every child is different and what works for some may not work for others. If none of these methods are helping your child deal with their dental anxiety, your dentist may talk to you about using a safe and effective sedative like nitrous oxide to help keep your child calm during a dental procedure.
If your child has dental anxiety, let us know beforehand so we can help them (and you) have a positive experience. We look forward to seeing you and your child at their next visit. Schedule your appointment today.
Sources: WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, Anxiety.org, Dentistry Today