5 min read

7 Tips to Help If Your Child Is Afraid of the Dentist

Many people are scared of going to the dentist.

In fact, dental phobia is an actual diagnosis and is treated as an anxiety disorder.

Some people will even avoid going to the dentist because of fear.

This is unfortunate because dental health can have a major impact on your overall health and regular dental visits are a vital part of keeping your mouth and teeth healthy.

Since fear of the dentist is common, it makes sense that your kids will also experience it.

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help alleviate their fear of the dentist and help them avoid developing the fear in the first place.

1. Find a dental home when they are young.

Look for a pediatric dentist with a good reputation. Pediatric dentists have gone through 2 - 3 extra years of training, learning techniques that are specifically designed to help children stay calm and alleviate discomfort. Be sure you find someone you like! Early dental visits will set the tone for how your child views the dentist for the rest of their lives. This is why everyone in our office is committed to presenting a calm, caring attitude, and the office has been carefully designed to create a fun environment. We want your child to have a good experience in our office, to help establish a positive attitude about dental visits for a lifetime.

Establishing a dental home brings two benefits. First, it makes going to the dentist a familiar experience. Most people are apprehensive about the unknown. If a child’s first experience in a dental office occurs before age one, and they have a check-up with the same person every 6 months, it will feel familiar and comfortable. Second, regular check-ups allow us to identify and monitor any problems before they require restoration. If we can help your child avoid fillings and other dental work, this will greatly minimize the possibility of them developing a fear of going to the dentist.

If your child is older, it should help to bring them by for an introductory visit before getting work done. We encourage you to come to the office to play and have fun with your child in advance of their first visit. This will help them have a happy first experience in our office and lessen the fear of the unfamiliar.

2. Be a good role model.

It is true that kids learn from watching their parents. Studies have found that when a parent fears going to the dentist, the children are more likely to fear dentist visits. Interestingly, they also found that when fathers feared dentist appointments the children had a higher chance of developing the same fear than if a mother experienced those feelings.

This highlights how important it is for you to be a good role model in this area. Try not to let your kids hear you talk about dreading a dental visit, or any painful work you’ve had done. Instead, when you come back from a cleaning, talk about how clean and shiny your teeth are, and how healthy they are.

It is also important to speak about your child’s appointment in an upbeat, lighthearted way. Even if you are nervous about bringing them, do your best not to show it. If you are anxious about your child’s appointment, they probably will be too.

While we are on the topic of being a good role model, we want to mention how important it is for you to practice good dental hygiene and teach your children to do the same. Making good dental hygiene a habit will help keep your kid’s teeth healthy. Many people’s fear of the dentist begins when they experience an uncomfortable procedure. Healthy teeth eliminate the need for fillings, making it much less likely that your child will associate the dentist with pain.

Since kids mimic their parents, seeing you brush twice and floss once every day will make it much more likely that they develop the same habits. It also works the same for poor habits. If you let brushing slide when you’re tired, only floss twice a week, or snack before bed, your children are much more likely to do the same. If you want to know more about best practices for healthy teeth, you may enjoy reading Things You Need to Know to Keep Your Kid’s Teeth Healthy.

3. Avoid using scary words.

Shot, pain and hurt are words that are best avoided. Pediatric dentists use words to describe what is happening that are not likely to frighten a child. For example, instead of saying that a child is about to get a shot, they may say they are going to give a tooth some medicine to make the cavity bugs go to sleep.

Some children cope better with getting explanations ahead of time. If this describes your child, feel free to contact us and we would be happy to let you know what kinds of words to use to describe what will be happening.

4. Use books, videos, and pretend play.

For some kids, this may help minimize fear of the unfamiliar. Others who are already afraid may find comfort in knowing their fear is normal. Just be sure to preview the book, show, or video. Find one that is positive and matter of fact, rather than something that emphasizes or goes into detail about the child’s fear.

Role-playing, where you give them a checkup, helps make the experience familiar. Allowing your child to give you a check-up may also help them feel more comfortable with the process and give them a sense of control. Remember to avoid any words or procedures that could make it seem scary.

5. Stay with your child to comfort and distract.

We encourage you to stay with your child during their appointment. You can talk to them and distract them, hold their hand when possible, and praise them for bravery and good behavior.

6. Use Positive Reinforcement.

Never underestimate the power of words. A child loves to hear that you are proud of them for being a great listener, doing a wonderful job being still, or being super brave. If, during and after the appointment, you mention the things they did well it will help them feel successful and highlight the positives. Before their next appointment, you can remind them of all the things they did well last time, which sets the tone for another positive visit and reinforces the good behaviors and attitudes.

If it is difficult for your child to sit still, or they are afraid, a sticker, prize, or trip to the bowling alley could provide the motivation for a successful visit to the dentist. Reinforcing good behavior will be helpful in the long run, so do your best to make the visit to the dentist a fun one!

7. Consider all your options.

Children who experience strong anxiety during dental visits or have experienced frightening experiences in the past often benefit from sedation. Our goal is for your child to have a safe and comfortable visit, and sedation may be the best choice for a variety of reasons. We will discuss the options with you and spend as much time as needed answering your questions or concerns. Nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas, is often a great option, and we also offer conscious sedation or unconscious sedation when necessary.

Your child will benefit from a healthy mouth for the rest of their life and there is a lot you can do to help them develop a positive mindset about dental visits. We are here to help you in this endeavor! We are privileged to develop a comfortable relationship with you and your child, to help them establish healthy dental habits, create a positive attitude about dental visits, and have fun.

Your Child’s First Dental Appointment!

At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.

Call Us - (480) 759-1119

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Location: Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert, Arizona
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