It’s common for children to be fearful or stressed when it comes to visiting the dentist. After all, many adults share those same feelings, so you can imagine how overwhelming it can be for kids. Here are some dental anxiety management tips to help children cope with their emotions and how to make every pediatric dental appointment a positive experience for your kids.
What Is Dental Anxiety in Children?
Although many people may not like going to the dentist, they don’t necessarily experience fear, panic or anxiety about it. For some children, the idea of a dental procedure is a very real and frightening event. They might have actual panic symptoms before a dental visit, which could eventually develop into a phobia (dentophobia or odontophobia) if these negative feelings are not managed.
According to a clinical study on dental anxiety in children1, researchers discovered a connection between dental fear and negative experiences with previous dental visits. It was also established that children adopt dental fear and anxiety as modeled by their parents’ or siblings’ attitudes towards the dentist. To summarize, a bad dental experience can affect you and your kids in detrimental and long-term ways.
Be Open and Honest With Your Kids
It’s generally a good idea to be open and honest with children when it comes to dental anxiety management. It’s natural to be fearful of the unknown, so a child that understands what is happening and why it is happening is more likely to make it through the procedure without serious problems or stress. Taking it slow and sharing the details of the procedure ahead of time can go a long way in calming an anxious patient.
When your kids ask you questions about visiting the dentist or what they can expect, don’t shy away from answering. If they sense you are holding back or being dishonest, it could inadvertently have a negative impact on the way they approach the dentist that can carry into adulthood. Try to answer clearly and honestly while also reassuring your kids that it will be over quickly and the dentist is there to help. Reiterate that everybody goes to the dentist, including their friends. It helps make the event more relatable.
Try to Understand What Is Triggering Your Child’s Fears
Due to negative experiences in the past, your child may be fearful or anxious when visiting the dentist. One of the best ways to help them overcome these feelings is to understand which fear is being triggered. Here’s a look at the most common fears that can develop in kids and how to help:
- Fear of Embarrassment. Some children have very obvious dental issues, such as tooth decay or dental deformities, and feel self-conscious about it. This fear is especially strong with kids who have been teased about the issue.
- Fear of Needles or Injections. This fear is common, even with adults. Knowing there is some pain associated with needles can be very scary for kids. However, professional dentists know the best techniques to make an injection as painless as possible.
- Fear of Anesthesia. Some patients are uncomfortable with the idea of being put to sleep and not being aware of what’s happening. Others don’t like having a mask on their face. The best approach is to be informative and explain exactly what the patient can expect.
- Fear of Pain. After hearing about painful experiences from other children or adults who’ve had similar dental procedures, it’s hard not to expect the same. However, most dental professionals are dedicated to making young patients as comfortable and confident as possible.
- Fear of Panicking or Loss of Control. The idea of being trapped can be a helpless feeling. Being in a dental chair as somebody performs a procedure can lead to anxiety and panic. Having parents present during the treatment and communicating with the patient is essential in keeping everybody calm.
Once you have a clearer idea of what kind of fear your child is experiencing and what is triggering those particular feelings, it should be easier to address them and ease their anxiety.
How Do I Calm My Child’s Nerves Before a Dentist Appointment?
The best thing you can do to help your kids with dental anxiety is to make them as comfortable as possible. Here are some ideas on how you might calm your child’s nerves before and during the dental appointment:
- Let them bring whatever comforts them (stuffed toy, blanket, fidget spinner, etc.)
- Make the most of distractions (phone, tablet or music)
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises
- Provide positive reinforcement with tangible rewards (ice cream after the visit)
- Be present and let your child know you’ll be with them the whole time
Don’t Miss or Delay Your Child’s Dental Care
Missing or delaying regular appointments for dental exams, x-rays and teeth cleanings can lead to poor oral health, but it can also result in your child being unfamiliar with their dentist and what happens during a visit. If you have a child who already suffers from pediatric dentist anxiety, this will only make matters worse. By making dental care part of your child’s routine, they will know what to expect and be more comfortable with the idea.
Find the Right Dentist for Your Child
As you can see, many things can prompt a child’s negative feelings towards the dentist. For this reason, it’s essential to find the right dentist for your family’s needs. If your child is particularly anxious about the dentist, it’s best to seek a pediatric dentist who exclusively deals with children. You should also inquire about what methods they use to help calm nerves and make every appointment a more positive experience. To help, here on some tips on how to choose the best dental plan for your family.
As a parent, you should also share any background that could give your dentist insight on how to best help your child. If they had a traumatic or stressful experience with a dentist in the past, let your new dental team know before any procedure is done. They may try an alternative approach or use a different type of sedation that will help ease your child’s anxiety. Overall, choose a family dentist who makes your child feel comfortable and confident and follow these tips to make the dentist less scary for your kids.