Your Child has Dental Anxiety? Here’s What You Should Do

Is your child afraid of the dentist? Fear not! We know a few crucial tips to get them into the dentist’s office and ease their dental anxiety.

 Dealing with Dental Anxiety with Kids

photo by John Dill via Flickr

It’s perfectly normal to have fears, especially for children. Some fears come stem from drastic changes, being separated from their parents, or even the scary monster in the closet. Although many kids will grow out of their fear as they mature, teaching them to cope while they’re young can sometimes be difficult.

One fairly common and difficult fear that some parents face is when their child is terrified of going to the dentist, also called dental phobia or anxiety.

Believe it or not, almost 20% of school age children are afraid of visiting the dentist. Unfortunately, this issue makes things difficult for the parents and technicians trying to help the child. Even worse, the anxiety can be detrimental to the child’s oral health when it prevents them from receiving necessary dental care. So what can you do to get them past this anxiety? We have some suggestions that may help you out:

What Can Parents and their Dentist Do to Help?

It can help tremendously when both the parents and their dentist communicate and work together to make a dental visit go more smoothly. Both persons play a vital role in soothing and transitioning a child into his or her dental procedures.

Parents Role:

Before the Visit:

Tell your child in advance that they have a dental visit.

Children need predictability in their life in order to adjust and transition into unfamiliar situations. Waiting until the last moment to tell your child about their dental visit can worsen their anxiety. They will need as much time as possible in order to mentally prepare for their visit to the dentist. During that time, you can also begin to help them through their dental phobia. Let them express their fears to you as the day of their appointment draws closer.

Answer their questions with straightforward, to-the-point responses. Be sure to limit the amount of details given, and remind them that they can ask the dentist questions too. Dental professionals are trained to describe procedures to children in nonthreatening ways.

Communication with your child is key. Talk to them about the importance of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Explain that the dentist is a friendly doctor who helps take care of their mouth, keeping them safe and healthy.

Inform your dentist beforehand. Making your dentist aware of your child’s dental phobia ahead of time will help them be prepared for the visit.

During the Visit:

Ask your dentist for advice, and follow the their instructions. Dental professionals are trained in the ways of dental care and also dealing with a variety of patients. Ask them what you can do to put your child at ease, and follow their instructions during the visit.

Have your child’s favorite toy ready. A toy can be a helpful and calming distraction for your child during the visit. You can let them play while in the waiting room as they adjust to the new environment. Though not all toys are suitable for when they’re in the dental chair,your child may be allowed to have small simple toys during the procedure. (Just be sure to ask your dentist for permission.)

Stay calm, always. It can be difficult to stay calm while your child is having a tantrum or has anxiety at their dental appointment. Remind yourself to remain collected and to speak gently to you child. Having a soothing demeanor will make them feel safer and at ease.

The Dentist's Role

Speak in a kind voice and use simple words.

A dentist who often works will children will know how to speak gently to your child. Talking in a friendly and regulated voice tone only when necessary will help put your child at ease. Using simple words to explain procedures is also beneficial. Sometimes, a dentist will use a doll or another person to demonstrate a procedure before they perform it.

Engage the child in conversation.

Engagement is an extremely helpful tool to help your child overcome dental anxiety. Giving the child a task such as doing mental math or naming their favorite foods can keep them pleasantly distracted. Dentists can tells stories and engage them in a conversation. That way, attention is drawn away from the procedure. That will also help the child to feel more comfortable around the dental professional.

Use positive reinforcement.

Compliments and praise work as effective reinforcements for children. Applauding them for their bravery and good behavior during a dental visit can make a world of difference.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, behavioral guidance administered by the dentist ultimately builds trust and allays fear and anxiety for the young patient. Ultimately, it isn’t a simple application of techniques used for dealing with children. Rather, it is a nurtured relationship between the patient and doctor.

Nothing is working! What do I do?

Conscious Sedation

When nothing seems to be helping your child deal with their dental anxiety, there is another harmless option: Laughing gas. Using a safe and effective sedative will help keep your child calm during a dental procedure. Sedation dentistry is used for both kids and adults and is given as a controlled anti-anxiety medication. Most of the time, conscious sedation is enough to help the patient cope with the procedure. This kind of method allows the child to remain relaxed during the procedure. During this kind of sedation, they are still able to respond to verbal and physical stimuli. They can also breathe normally without any medical assistance. Afterward, the child will probably have no recollection of the procedure and will function normally by the next day.

For their patients’ safety, dentists and their assistants are certified to administer such drugs and have a qualified staff member to monitor vital signs of the patient during sedation. Different levels of sedation are achieved by different medications to bring on mild, moderate, or deep sedation. Medications such as Hydroxyzine or Midazolam can be taken orally for a milder sedation. Intravenous (IV) drugs are used for deeper levels of sedation.


Sometimes it’s necessary to seek professional help for your child’s anxiety. Different therapeutic treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy are worth trying. Doing so will allow your child to overcome their fears so they can receive proper dental treatment to keep their teeth and gums healthy.

More tips:

  1. Don’t tell your child about unpleasant dental experiences that you have had.
    This may seem obvious, but even telling stories long before they ever see the dentist may promote dental phobia for your child. Stick to positive stories when describing what it’s like at the dentist’s office.

  2. Avoid words like “hurt,” “shots,” or “painful.”
    Even prefacing these words with “only a little” is not going to help your child with their dental phobia.

  3. Find a child-friendly dental office.
    If your child is really struggling to make it to dental appointments, it’s crucial that you find a dentist who has experience with young patients and their dental anxiety. If a dentist is not willing to take the steps to ease your child’s fear, you may have to consider finding a new dentist.

  4. Don’t give up.
    It can be understandably frustrating when your child refuses to go to the dentist, even for something as small as a fluoride treatment.  It’s going to take a lot of patience to deal with dental anxiety. Remember that keeping calm and nurturing is extremely helpful to a fearful child. These types of fears often only last as a phase; they will most likely grow out of it.

Helping your child overcome their fear of the dentist is beneficial for their mental and physical health. After all, giving your child the proper dental care they need is crucial for their well being.

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