Overcoming Pediatric Dental Anxiety

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Helping your kids overcome dental anxiety

Ways to Overcome Pediatric Dental Anxiety

Just as adults do, children can experience anxiety when they are facing an upcoming dental visit. As a parent, this can be an obstacle to getting your child the dental care he or she needs to maintain good oral health. You must address pediatric dental anxiety so that it does not cause your child to miss vital preventive appointments with the dentist. “Skipping the dentist” actually leads to an increase in dental anxiety.  

In this week’s blog, we will explain what pediatric dental anxiety is and how you, as a parent, need to intervene to help your child overcome it.

What is Pediatric Dental Anxiety?

Pediatric dental anxiety is a condition of fear that a child experiences when he or she knows a dental visit will occur soon. Some people may refer to this as dental fear or phobia, and in general, these terms point to the same condition.  

A child suffering from pediatric dental anxiety will experience a sense of apprehension at the thought of the upcoming dental visit. As with adults, this anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways. As the parent of this child, you must be ready to recognize any of the signs so that you can address them.

How Does Pediatric Dental Anxiety differ from Adult Dental Anxiety?

Children are less likely to understand the fact that they are experiencing fear and apprehension about an upcoming dental visit. This means that the ways their anxiety may show visible signs can vary widely. Children are not likely to simply name their dental anxiety for what it is.  Instead, they may do one or more of the following.

  • Misbehave at school or home
  • State that they don’t feel good
  • Complain of a stomach ache 
  • Throw a temper tantrum over something seemingly unrelated
  • Complain of being sleepy or tired
  • Cry
  • Beg you not to make them go to the dentist

How to Prevent Pediatric Dental Anxiety in Your Child

As with any type of health condition, prevention is always better than treatment after something arises. The same is true for our mental health, especially for situations that can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear. Here are some of the most important ways that you, as a parent, can prevent pediatric dental anxiety in your child.

Set a Good Example

Our children learn far more from our actions than our words. If you personally suffer from dental fear or anxiety, it is very likely that your child will, too. This is because your child sees your anxiety over going to the dentist and assumes that something very bad happens there. We can influence our children’s impressions of a variety of things they will encounter by ensuring we have a positive attitude about them. 

Make sure that when you have an upcoming dental visit, you set a great example for your child by not exhibiting obvious fear or anxiety about it.

Speak Positively about Your Dental Visits

On the contrary, you should not just not speak negatively or from a place of anxiety or fear regarding the dentist. To help your child prevent dental anxiety from arising, you should make every effort to speak positively about your own dental experiences. You want your child to want to go to the dentist.  Here are some things you can say when you have a dental appointment approaching.

  • “I get to go see my dentist today!”
  • “I can’t wait to have my teeth cleaned.  It makes them feel so nice!”
  • “My dentist/dental hygienist is so nice!  She always asks me how you (the child) are doing.”
  • “Soon you will get to go to the dentist and have sparkly clean teeth, too!”

Speaking positively can help your child feel excited or happy about an upcoming dental visit. They should understand that it is a good thing that they “get to” do, not a bad thing that they “have to” do.

Take Your Child with You to a Short Dental Visit of Your Own

If you have a simple visit coming up, consider bringing your child along. You may need to check with the front desk to make sure your appointment will be quick and that young guests are welcome. It is important for your child to see you in the dental chair with your mouth wide open, easily complying with your dentist’s instructions and not complaining of any pain or discomfort.  

We recommend bringing your child to something simple, like a teeth cleaning, retainer or Invisalign aligner check, or other visits that do not require local anesthesia. Ask your dentist about any potential appointments you have that you could bring the child to for observation.  

Allow Your Child to Tour the Dentist’s Office

Many dental practices offer tours for new patients, and this includes our littlest patients. A lot of dental fear and anxiety simply involves the unknown. When your child gets to see the office with its various rooms, sights, sounds, and smells, during a low-pressure time such as a tour, he or she will have less apprehension when coming for an official appointment.

Never Use the Words “Shot”, “Needle”, “Hurt” in Association with the Dentist

Some children suffer from dental anxiety because of misconceptions created by stories they have heard from others. Because they hear a parent or older sibling talking about shots or needles, they assume that they will get a shot at every dental visit. This is not true, and you must ensure your child does not get this wrong idea in his or her head. The truth is that local anesthetic is only necessary when the child has active dental disease requiring treatment.

If your child is coming for consistent preventive visits, it is very likely that he or she will never need to experience a local anesthetic injection. Do not use these scary words at all. Let the treating dentist explain the procedure in his or her preferred way.  

We find that young patients who do not have any preconceived notions are able to comply much more readily with dental treatment.

Ways to Manage Pediatric Dental Anxiety

If your child already has dental anxiety, you will need to work with the child to overcome his or her fears. The best way to go about this is to work with your child’s dentist to find out what you should say to the child when a visit is approaching. It is important to not over-explain because you may risk getting it wrong. Children tend to fear the unknown, but informing them incorrectly can be as bad as not telling them anything.  

Your dentist works to build trust with your child. We want to explain what will happen during a visit, what the child will feel and experience, but only we can do that properly because we know exactly what occurs during each visit.

Your job is to assure your children that dental treatments will not hurt them or cause any lasting problems. The sleepy feeling of local anesthetic wears off relatively quickly. Any tenderness lasts only a short time.  Make sure your child knows that you are allowing this dentist to take care of your child because you trust this dentist.

If your child continues to suffer from severe dental anxiety, you will need to speak to your dentist about referral to a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists are specialists who can offer sedative options for severely anxious patients. We will work with you to make sure your child gets the treatment he or she needs.

More Questions about Pediatric Dental Anxiety?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a visit with one of our compassionate dentists. We can answer any question you have about your child and his or her pediatric dental needs, including how to help your child successfully undergo any necessary dental care. Our goal is for every person, young and old, in our communities to receive the vital dental care they need!

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