How to Manage Dental Anxiety in Children

It’s common for children to be fearful or stressed when visiting a pediatric 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 questions and answers to help children cope with their emotions to make every pediatric dental appointment a positive experience for your kids.

What Is Dental Phobia?

Dental phobia is a fear of the dentist that can affect children and adults alike. The clinical term associated with this condition is dentophobia. This fear can also cause dental anxiety, which is an extension of the phobia. 

When someone experiences dental anxiety, they can feel uncomfortable, anxious, and afraid. Furthermore, as defensive mechanisms, a patient can become argumentative, disruptive, and uncooperative.

little kid scared of the dentist

How Common 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 genuinely 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. Additionally, children may 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.

Do you need quality dental care for your child? Absolute Dental offers excellent options for all ages. Schedule an appointment today.

How Can Kids Prevent Dental Anxiety?

It’s generally a good idea to be open and honest with children regarding dental anxiety management. It’s natural to fear the unknown, so a child who understands what is happening and why, is more likely to make it through the procedure without serious problems or stress. Here are some ways to help prevent dental anxiety.

1. Start Dental Visits Early

Parents should start taking their kids to the dentist as soon as possible. The sooner your child starts seeing a dentist, the better. Kids who see a dentist regularly from about the time they get their first teeth often do not experience childhood dental anxiety.

2. Find a Dentist They Like

Select a pediatric dentist your child feels comfortable with and puts them at ease. If your child doesn’t like their dentist, they are more likely to have a bad experience which could eventually lead to dentophobia. 

toddler being friendly with a new dentist

3. Let Them Talk About It

Parents should encourage their children to ask questions about what to expect. 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 negatively impact how they approach the dentist, which can carry into adulthood. Taking it slow and sharing the details of the procedure ahead of time can go a long way in calming an anxious patient. 

Be sure to answer questions honestly. However, do not go into detail about all the negative dental treatments that could happen, like having to get fillings. Doing so could make your child terrified of a dentist. Should your kid have cavities, you and their dentist can address it later.

Try to answer clearly and honestly while 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.

How Can I Make My Child More Comfortable at the Dentist?

Here are some ideas on how you might calm your child’s nerves before and during the dental appointment:

  • Bring along something that will create a distraction during their dental appointment (phone or tablet). 
  • Let them bring whatever comforts them (stuffed toy, blanket, fidget spinner, etc.)
  • 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.
  • Play games with them where they can use their fingers to respond to your questions. 
  • If they like music, bring headphones so they can listen to music on your phone during their examination. 
  • You can help them stay calm by speaking to them in a quiet and reassuring voice. 

What Triggers Your Child’s Fears?

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:

  • Negative experiences in the past. Your child may be fearful or anxious when visiting the dentist due to a previous unpleasant experience. 
  • Fear of embarrassment. Some children have pronounced dental issues, such as tooth decay or dental deformities, and feel self-conscious about it. This fear is especially strong with kids who get teased about the issue.
  • Fear of needles or injections. This fear is common, even among 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 children are uncomfortable with the idea of being put to sleep and unaware 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 your kid 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 child is essential in keeping everybody calm.

Once you have a clearer idea of what kind of fear your child is experiencing and what triggers those particular feelings, it should be easier to address them and ease their anxiety.

Is your child ready to visit the dentist? Regular visits help keep teeth healthy. Schedule an appointment today.

How Do I Calm My Child’s Nerves Before a Dentist Appointment?

The best thing you can do to help a child with dental anxiety is to make them as comfortable as possible. Here are some ways to help calm a child’s nerves before an appointment.

1. Role-Play With Your Child

Parents should roleplay with their kids before their visit. Take time to play dentist with your child by showing them how the dentist will check their teeth and brush them. You can take turns and let your child play dentist, check your teeth, and brush them. 

2. Role-Play With a Doll or Stuffed Animal

You could also use a stuffed toy or doll during your roleplay session if your child is hesitant about letting you check and brush your teeth. When using a toy, use a toothbrush instead of an object that could make them feel even more anxious. 

kid hugging a stuffed animal at the dentist

3. Be Positive

Another thing parents can do to help their kids is to avoid discussing any negative experiences they may have had. The last thing you want to do as a parent is to fuel your child’s fear of the dentist. 

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 Children’s Dentist in Las Vegas

As you can see, many things can prompt a child’s negative feelings towards the dentist. For this reason, finding the right children’s dentist in Las Vegas for your family’s needs is essential. 

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.

Be sure to 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 a child afraid of a dentist and your child’s anxiety. 

Overall, choose a family dentist who makes your child feel comfortable and confident. Contact our Absolute Dental clinic to schedule an appointment today.


¹Milgrom, P. et al.( March 1995) Origins of Childhood Dental Fear. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 22 June 2022. 

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