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How to Help Children Who Are Afraid of the Dentist?

Jun 12 • 4 minute read

Is your child afraid of dental visits? If we want our children to be healthy, keeping their teeth clean and cavity free is an important part of that. However, dental visits can be challenging if your child gets anxiety at the very mention of a dental appointment.

Going to dentist need not be inherently scary. However, most kids don’t like being told to sit still, and sitting in a big chair and being tipped backward with a bright light shining in their face is enough to make most kids squeamish and even induce tears.

So how can we help them calm those fears and even look forward to a dental visit? Here are a few helpful tips to help your child’s next dental visit go a little more smoothly.

Choose an Experienced Pediatric Dentist

The first tip is a simple one. If your dentist already has a lot of experience in working with children, they will be much better qualified to provide service that caters to them and keeps their unique fears in mind.

Pediatric dentists also have two or three years of additional academic training on top of their years in dental school that train them how to treat children and their fears.

These dentists usually have kid friendly offices with prizes or treats for kids who successfully sit through a dental appointment, and even sunglasses to help dim the brightness of overhead exam lights. They may even have fluffy stuffed animals to comfort the kids during exams. For older children, incentive clubs are a great way to keep them motivated about their dental health.

Have the First Dental Appointment Early

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, an excellent way to minimize anxiety for children is to start regular dental visits before a problem like a cavity develops.

Not only does starting early with dental appointments help your child to get used to the idea of seeing a dentist, but it also helps to minimize the chance of cavities forming early on. Finding cavities early mans shorter appointments and fewer dental bills. Getting your child used to regular visits can really help avoid complex and expensive treatments later.

Meet the Dentist

By bringing in your child to meet their future dentist before their actual first appointment, you give them a chance to establish a relationship with him or her outside the context of an exam. Your child will not be frightened by the idea of a “stranger” working on their teeth and will likely feel more comfortable with a “family friend” working on them instead.

Just having that aspect of familiarity can really help take the edge off a potentially scary dental visit for your child.

Stay Close During Your Child’s Dental Visits

Whenever going through a new or frightening experience, it can help to have a parent nearby with a hand to hold and a soothing voice. Some dentists may even allow the child to sit on a parent’s lap during some parts of the appointment. This can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the visit.

Your child will probably find the sound of your voice soothing and it may help to distract them from the dental work. However, many dentists recommend allowing the dentist to make small talk with the child during the appointment, as this will help them to develop trust and make future appointments easier. However, don’t be tempted to start asking the dentist questions yourself during the appointment. Save those for afterwards so the dentist can focus on your child.

Schedule Appointments with One Hygienist

It might go without saying, but the dental hygienist is the one who does most of the work during a dental cleaning visit. Therefore, for each of the tips suggested above, the hygienist applies as well. It is important to help your child build familiarity with their dental hygienist. The best way to do this is to ensure they have the same dental hygienist each time, and let them get to know their hygienist ahead of time so they feel more comfortable when the time comes for their dental appointment.

Provide Distractions, Set Aside Your Fear and Provide Information

Some dental offices may have a TV overhead to play kid friendly shows or movies to keep kids distracted during their appointments. In other cases, you may be able to allow your child to wear headphones or earbuds to listen to their favorite music or movie.

Your child can sense if you are afraid or concerned, and it will be reflected in the way they feel. If you are showing any trepidation or misgivings about seeing the dentist at all, your child will likely pick up on those fears and magnify them. Avoid scary words like “pain,” “afraid,” or “worry,” to help your child not fear dental appointments and even look forward to them.

Hopefully these tips will help make a difference in the way your child thinks about and experiences dental appointments for years to come and leads to a positive relationship both with their dentist and dental hygienist and dental care altogether.

Do you have any tips of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

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