Tips for Helping Kids Overcome Fear of the Dentist

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Tips for helping kids overcome fear of the dentist

Many children are afraid of going to the dentist.  In some kids, this is just an inherent fear of the unknown, and in others, it stems from prior experiences that were negative or scary stories someone else has told them.  Your approach to your child’s dental visits is an important part of their perception.  Here is some helpful information that will guide you in helping your child have good experiences at the dentist.

Things that are Sure to Make Your Child Afraid of the Dentist

Before we get into the “Do’s” of helping your child have a good experience at the dentist, we must first address some of the “Don’ts”.  Unfortunately, we see these things quite frequently, and not only do they NOT help your children.  They also make our jobs in gaining their trust much more difficult.

Do not:

  • Tell a child about how scared you are of going to the dentist. Children follow your example.  If you are afraid, they will be, too.
  • Describe dental treatment in a scary way. Do not use the words “shot”, “needle”, “bleeding”, etc . . . Great dentists have a way of explaining what will happen so that children have appropriate expectations without being scared.
  • Wait until your child is in pain to bring him or her to the dentist. This automatically creates a negative experience.  They should have positive, pain-free experiences at the dental office, like simple professional teeth cleanings or dental sealants.  Being in pain makes everything much scarier for a child!
  • Tell the child what the dentist is going to do. We have had many frightened little patients tell us that an older sibling or parent told them we were going to yank their teeth out or drill a big hole in their teeth.  If you do not know what treatment the child needs, do not presume to tell them what will happen.
  • Make Promises You Cannot Keep. We often hear parents frantically promising a child that it will not hurt or they will not feel anything.  Unfortunately, that might not be true.  It is best to let the dentist set the expectation for the child of what he or she may or may not feel during treatment.

Things You can do to Prevent Dental Fear in Your Child

Accordingly, there are certain steps you can take to help prevent or alleviate any fear or anxiety your child may feel about an impending dental visit.

Do Start Early

The very best thing you can do for a child to keep dental anxiety is to start early.  You can bring your baby with you to dental cleanings before it is time for his own dental visit so that the sights and sounds become familiar.  The more familiar a child is with the dental office and the people in it, the less likely he or she is to be afraid.

Do Explain What to Expect

Now, if you read through the “don’t” section above, you may be wary of this.  The point is that you want them to know what to expect, if you yourself know what they should expect.  If you do not know, then it is best to say nothing.  This is one reason that it is great to take your child to the same dentist you see.  Then you can describe the office and the people to your child, giving him a sense of familiarity before he even walks in.  You can explain how the dental hygienist takes “pictures” of the teeth with x-rays and cleans the “germs” off the teeth with special tools.  If you cannot think of a way to explain it in a non-scary way, ask the dentist or hygienist to do so at the start of the visit.

Do Set a Good Example

Children pick up on the emotions of their parents.  If you are afraid for your child, it is more likely that he or she will also be afraid.  If you seem worried, they will also worry.  As the parent, you must put on a brave, happy face that presents a confident, laid-back attitude to the child.  Allowing your child to watch you have your teeth professionally cleaned while you sit calmly throughout, showing no signs of discomfort or pain, will go a long way toward convincing your child that going to the dentist is not scary.  It may be that one parent is better for this role than the other, based on your own dental anxiety levels.

Do Choose the Right Dentist

Not every child needs to see a pediatric dentist.  In fact, there is great advantage in having the child see the same people the parent sees.  Every child does, however, need to see a dentist that he or she likes and trusts.  The right dentist will make an effort to carefully explain any dental treatments to your child, patiently answer questions, and gently perform the treatment without scaring her.

You can easily learn whether some of these qualities are present by reading online reviews.  People often post positive experiences when someone is particularly kind and patient with a child.

Do Keep Up with Consistent Dental Visits

It is important to keep your child on a consistent schedule with dental cleanings and check-ups.  Not only does this reduce the likelihood of any dental disease that requires “scary” treatments.  It also makes each visit less intimidating than the one before.

When you have long breaks of several years between dental visits, it is easy for the dental anxiety or fear to creep back in.  Long absences from the dentist cause your child to miss out on invaluable preventive dental treatments that stop cavities and gum disease for worsening.  Because long breaks between dental visits increase the likelihood of receiving bad news at the check-up, they worsen dental fear.  The last thing you want is for your child to be diagnosed with a new cavity every time there is a dental check-up.  This is very likely to happen when those dental visits are few and far between.

More Questions about Dental Fear?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists.  We can give you advice on the best tactics to help your child overcome dental fear and even just meet the child without an official scheduled “visit”.  Dentists are just regular people who love taking care of patients’ oral health.

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