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Dental Anxiety Tips for Kids

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Some children just fear the dentist. They may have had a poor experience, or perhaps they learned this anxiety from a family member. The truth is that if your child doesn't cope with their stress now, it can become a problem when they have to keep dental appointments as an adult. Learn why some children have dental anxiety and tips for dealing with your child's anxiety so you can have a successful visit.

What is dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety is the fear or stress surrounding visiting the dentist. Dental anxiety can be specific to particular procedures or tools like a drill or needles. Still, some children can experience anxiety about even thinking about the dentist.

Unfortunately, dental anxiety as children can lead to avoiding cleanings and checkup appointments as adults, leading to oral care issues to need extensive treatment later. Avoidance often compounds the stress. Now, they have to cope with aspects of visiting the dentist that cause the most fear, like local anesthetic or tooth extraction, continuing the cycle.

This is why dealing with dental anxiety as children will help them in the future. Parents should ensure that children won't avoid going to the dentist as adults by helping their kids develop coping mechanisms or getting rid of dental anxiety altogether.

Why are some children afraid of the dentist?

Children may fear the dentist for many reasons. Some children's anxiety rears its ugly head around many experiences, which can include the dentist. Often, parents, parents, or siblings fear the dentist, and the child learns from them.

Other factors that may lead to dental anxiety include:

  • The memory of a previous painful experience
  • The sight or feel of the steel dental instruments on their teeth
  • The smell or view of the dental setting
  • Avoidance of preventative appointments
  • Anxiety about the cost of dental appointments
  • Inadequate preparation for the first dental visit

How to help your child deal with dental anxiety

Talk to your child about their dental procedure before the appointment. You should talk about it even if it's a simple checkup, especially before a more significant procedure. Then, answer your child's questions honestly. Describe the process in easy-to-understand terms and comforting language. You can search for images online of the dentist's office, look at the dental chair, the overhead light, and some of the equipment.

You can also talk with your child about a reward they receive after their appointments, like a toy or game, so they have something to look forward to. Other ways to relieve dental anxiety in children include:

  • Never using dental treatment as a threat to encourage oral hygiene
  • Bringing a toy or comfort blanket with your child to the dental appointment
  • Finding stories or games about visiting the dentist
  • Finding a specialized dentist that trained to deal with anxious patients

Parents with dental anxiety can find more tips from the American Dental Association.

Use positive reinforcement for oral care

Although it might be easy and effective (in the moment), warning your child that they will have a huge dental procedure if they don't brush their teeth increases their fear of the dentist. And they may avoid the dentist as an adult. Use positive reinforcement for proper oral hygiene. You can use toothbrushes that play a fun song as a timer or give consistent oral care rewards at home.

Take a toy or comforting item to the dentist appointment

A favorite stuffed animal or another small toy can be comforting in times of stress and fear. You can call the dentist's office ahead of the appointment to discuss your child's anxiety and ask if you can bring the item. Sometimes dentists have a collection of toys or stuffed animals for the children to hold that won't get in the dentist's or dental hygienist's way.

Read stories or play games involving dentist visits

A great way to relieve stress or anxiety is to roleplay dentist visits with your child in the comfort of your home. There are many toy dentist toolkits available to help. You can also read storybooks about visiting the dentist designed to help ease anxiety.

Find a Pediatric dentist

You can ask your general dentist for a referral for a Pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists have two extra years of training to treat all issues that can arise with your child's oral care. Their additional training can help reassure you as a parent. Also, it will be a more comfortable experience for your child. Pediatric dentists design their offices, from the waiting room to the exam room, to treat children and make them more comfortable.

Finally, teaching and reinforcing proper oral care habits, including keeping routine dental appointments early, will help. Your child should understand that the dentist and dental hygienist wants to help keep their teeth healthy, and there is nothing to fear.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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