How to Manage Dental Anxiety in Children
When moms and dads call our office to make dental appointments for their children, we often hear concerns about how their child will behave and react during the appointment.
Sometimes this is because of age, but more often it’s because of the child’s or the parent’s dental anxiety. Parents are often worried that their child might act out, cry, or not listen to instructions because of their child’s feelings or past dental experiences. Dental fear experienced by parents also plays a huge role in their child's fear of the dentist, since parents naturally transfer their fears to their kids.
The first thing we always tell parents is that this is a safe place for your child to be themselves! Little kids feel big emotions! All feelings are welcome here and we are experts at helping your child have a successful dental appointment.
We don’t worry if your child acts out, so you shouldn’t either! It is our job to provide effective dental care while navigating scary or unknown situations.
Things your can do to help your child before and during their visit
Parents can have a wonderful influence on reducing fear or improving behavior in their children.
Build good habits early, like a good brushing routine. This helps littles understand that dental care is important and doesn’t need to be scary.
Avoid telling your child about your own apprehensions and make every effort to inform your child about their dental visit through positive information giving.
Emphasize the positive aspects of your child’s dental visit.
If they had fear or behavior problems, but were able to overcome these in any capacity, let them know you are proud of them.
Perhaps do something fun after a dental visit to associate these feelings with the dentist.
Don't say, “Don't worry. It won't hurt." Of course, you mean to reassure your child but his mind is going to zero in on the word hurt. Checkups and 90 percent of first visits are nearly always pain-free, so steer clear of that concept entirely, recommends the AAPD.
Start your child's visits at an early age. Children can visit the pediatric dentist for their first examination as early as their first birthday or first tooth. We explain more about this in our FAQ.
Things we do in our office to help your child
We do many things in our office to help your child gain confidence during their appointments.
Giving your child gradual exposure to the dentist can help alleviate anxiety. At our office, we always take a conservative approach to what we accomplish in each appointment, making sure to tailor it to what your child is comfortable experiencing.
Children, especially ones with anxiety, tend to do better when they’ve got a sense of predictability.
They are much more likely to tolerate a procedure when they have been told in advance what to expect.
I am happy to walk through any upcoming treatment with you and your child to make sure you are both comfortable.
Opt for a pediatric dentist. You may be happy with your dentist but a practitioner who specializes in treating kids and adolescents brings extra expertise and experience to the table.
Pediatric dentists have an extra two to three years of training beyond dental school so they are experts at managing fearful young patients.
In addition, our office is designed to be kid-friendly. Even little things like outfitting kids with sunglasses to combat the brightness of the lights during an exam or having stuffed animals or fidget spinners available can help calm nerves.
We make the most of distraction at our office. We offer TV screens playing kid-friendly shows mounted above the exam chair to attract kids' attention. We offer prizes and kid centered activities.
Finally, communication among parents, dentists and the child build trust and confidence that lasts a lifetime of checkups.
Your child is our top priority, so we always make sure to find out how their day is going, what they are interested in and if they have any questions for us!
Going to the dentist can be scary -- no matter how little (or big!) you are. With the right planning and environment, though, it can be an easy and pain-free experience for both kiddos and parents alike.
If you’d like to chat more about preparing your child for their visit or overcoming your own fear of dentists to help your kid feel at ease, give us a call! We’re here for you.
A Dental Assistant Perspective
My name is Shelby and I have worked at Pediatric Smiles for over a year now. Actually, I was the first employee hired when the practice opened!
In the past year, I have definitely seen children have many different reactions to being at the dentist. At our office, we have many ways of decreasing your child’s dental anxiety. When they first arrive, we make them feel at home and have them color a picture to put up on our window. We have TVs with cartoons, a treasure box, and a child-centered approach to all we do.
However, sometimes this doesn’t work. With one particular patient, I knew he was very afraid of coming to the dentist. He had previous visits to a different office and had a bad experience. He was nervous that the same thing would happen this time. I was my job as his dental assistant to do everything I could to help him have a positive experience with us. I explained everything I was doing, showed him my equipment and went very slowly with the appointment. He was still so nervous…then I remembered we had just received a batch of fidget spinners at our office. These would be the perfect tool to distract him from his concerns. And, it worked! He focused on the spinner while I completed the exam. And he left excited for his next visit.
Every kid is different, so we take the time in our office to get to know every each child and what works for them. And then I get to enjoy the best part of my job, helping kids have gain confidence and a healthy smile.