Anxiety Over a Dental Appointment? How to Ease Your Child's Worries

Dental appointments may cause anxiety in some children, especially those who have undergone serious oral procedures at a young age. If your child experiences fear of the unknown before a first dentist appointment or general anxiety stemming from a previous experience, you can help to ease their fears by preparing them ahead of time for a trip to the dentist's office.

Set Expectations

Talk to your child about what will happen at the dental appointment, be it a simple checkup or a more significant procedure. Be prepared to answer your child's questions. Do not lie about what will happen; instead, find ways to describe the process in easy-to-understand terms and comforting language. If your child prefers visual explanations, sit down together, and look at pictures of pediatric dental offices. Point out the dental chair, the overhead light and some of the equipment used by dental hygienists and dentists. Also, if you choose to reinforce positive behavior following the dental appointment, discuss with your child what the reward will be, giving them something to look forward to.

Allow Them to Bring a Friend

If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or other small toy, suggest that they bring it along with them to the appointment provided it will not interfere with the dentist's work. Sometimes the dental office has a special collection of toys for kids to hold during appointments, which may increase your child's comfort level as well. If you choose to call the office ahead of time to alert the dentist to your child's nervousness, ask about bringing a small blanket or other comfort item from home.

Read Stories or Play Games Involving Dentist Visits

Before a visit to the dentist, try reading to your child from a selection of books geared toward their particular age level. Many television shows also have episodes dealing with first dentist or doctor visits. You may also want to role play using a toy dental kit. Sesame Street online has instructions for a "Let's Pretend" game to be played at home where the child and parent can act out what will happen during a dental visit to help educate the child beforehand.

Reinforcing good oral care habits, including routine dental appointments, at an early age will help children develop a positive attitude toward dental care. Kids should understand that the dentist wants to help keep their teeth healthy and that visiting a dental office should not be a scary experience.