Dental Fear of the Pediatric Dentist: The Parent's Role

Dental fear is a frequent problem in pediatric dentistry, dentists who specialize in the treatment of dental care specifically for children. And if anyone is scared of the dentist, it's the kids.

Several factors contribute to a child's fear of his or her pediatric dentist, especially parents. A Mom's or Dad's dental fear plays a huge role in their child's fear of the dentist, since parents naturally transfer their fears of the world onto their young. Because a parent's dental anxiety can influence that of their child, it's important for more experienced patients to adopt ways of controlling their natural behavior in an office of tooth doctors.

Dental Fear Factors

Children's fear the dentist comes in many forms. A child's dental fear may be based on his or her general outlook toward anxiety, or other more personal things relative to the child. But again, dental fear is a massive product of similar fear in family members, particularly from parents to their children. A father's dental fear, for instance, contributes to his children's fear more than mothers, according to results from a study on kids who were from 7 to age 12. Mothers also exhibit the highest level of dental fear, reflecting a generation of behavior that is reportedly more prevalent in girls than in boys.

Other factors that may lead to dental fear include:

  • Fear of pain or history of a painful experience
  • Sight or feel of dental instruments
  • Unappealing dental setting
  • Avoidance
  • Recurring thoughts
  • Emotions concerned with possible threats
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Culture
  • Family relationships
  • Child-rearing
  • Inadequate preparation for the first dental visit

Fear Severity

Levels of dental fear vary from person to person. A child's concerns may come out prior to a dental visit, in the dental office waiting area, or even right there in the office seat. No matter where it shows, however, parents that check themselves as a patient get a gold star in preventing, controlling, and reducing early responses to dental care.

Missed or canceled dental appointments, fainting, sweating, complaining, flushed expression, crying, and panic attacks are some clear signs of a nervous youth.

Creating a Friendly Image of the Pediatric Dentist

Even the highest-strung children can improve from some appropriate techniques their folks can use to dull their fears. Parents should definitely avoid telling their children about their own apprehensions, and make every effort to prepare them for dental visits through positive information on what to expect. Dental office information and "pre-visits" can get the ball rolling, but do what you can to make teeth-cleaning fun. Your kids will want to show off a powerful smile after using dental products touting their favorite action figures, such as Colgate® Transformers toothbrushes and anticavity fluoride toothpaste.

Dentists themselves can help fathers address their dental fears by providing accurate information on dental treatment, discussing their feelings and addressing their most negative thoughts – and through even the simplest relaxation techniques.

Dental Visits

Start your child's visit at an early age. Children can visit the pediatric dentist for their first examination as early as their first birthday, and their doctors are often experts in providing effective dental care while navigating scary situations. Dental offices are designed to help children have a comfortable and relaxed dental visit. Pediatric dentists often apply medications to alleviate dental fears on the spot, such as nitrous oxide or oxygen inhalation. Above all, however, communication among parents, dentists and the child builds trust and confidence that lasts a lifetime of checkups.

About the author: Yolanda Eddis, RDH, BASDH, is a clinical dental hygienist for the United States government. She is a member of the American Dental Education Association and Esther Wilkins Education Program and is a Colgate Oral Health Advisor. Her research interests include community outreach projects. Eddis is currently pursuing her Masters of Health Science degree in a generalist concentration at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.