Many adults have a fear of the dentist. So, it’s no surprise that young children are often apprehensive about a dental visit, as well. It may even be that your own dental anxiety is rubbing off on your child, making them feel uncomfortable too. But there are other issues that may contribute to their fear.
Why is Your Child Afraid of the Dentist and What Can You Do About it?
Up to 20 percent of school age children experience some form of dental anxiety. Your child’s discomfort at the prospect of a dental visit can range from mild uneasiness to a distressing phobia. Understanding why they’re hesitant to receive dental care can help you minimize their nervousness and fear.
Delayed Dental Care
Babies typically start teething at around six months of age. By one year, it’s time to take your child in for their first dental visit. It’s an important part of preventative care, but it’s also an effective method of introducing your child to the dentist in a positive way. It helps them develop a good relationship with your family dentist early and removes the fear of the unfamiliar. Delaying this initial visit can contribute to an unhappy relationship with dental care.
Tips: Start your children’s dental care early. If their first dental visit has already been delayed, get them in as soon as possible to start instilling good dental habits right away. Help them see it as a positive and natural experience that should continue their entire life.
Fear of the Unknown
If a child doesn’t know what to expect, it can lead to unnecessary fear. Their imaginations can conjure up some extreme scenarios. And once they’re at the dentist office, the sight of the dental instruments can be scary. Being separated from mom or dad and having a stranger lead them away to an exam room can be frightening, too.
Tips: Tell your child what to expect before you go to the dentist. Provide age-appropriate information and avoid any details that may seem scary. Give them a general description of the exam and let them know that it may feel strange at first, but that everything will be fine. Give them information, lots of reassurance and the tools they need to relax.
For some kids, a dental exam is just physically uncomfortable. The x-ray film may pinch and the feeling of instruments in their mouth is unwelcome. The bright lights and having their mouths held open can contribute to this discomfort. If your child is seeing a dentist for a toothache, they are more likely to associate the dentist with pain. And naturally, shots are no picnic for little ones.
Tips: Practice some relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help ease discomfort. Talk to your dentist about the possibility of light sedation, like nitrous oxide or Valium. Don’t tell your child to “be brave” or minimize their feelings of discomfort. Be supportive and understanding to help them view dental visits as a positive experience.
Bad Previous Experience
If your child has already been to the dentist and it didn’t go well, future visits may be increasingly more uncomfortable. Whether the experience was painful, the dentist or staff were unpleasant, or something went wrong, you child will likely have a negative opinion of dental visits and fear them until you and your family dentist take helpful, proactive measures.
Tips: Choose a dentist who’s sensitive to your child’s anxiety and who understands the impact of their previous bad visit. Let your child know that you’re a team, along with your dentist and their staff. You’re all in this together to fight plaque and support healthy teeth and gums. Encourage your child to speak up if they have questions or feel overwhelmed. This can help them overcome the feeling of helplessness they likely felt when they had their initial bad experience. It can help them feel more in-control, which often alleviates fear.
In any of these scenarios, be sure to tailor these tips and advice to your child. Give them the support they need. Stay positive and reinforce the importance of good oral hygiene to help them adopt good dental care for life.
For more on your child’s oral health, download the Complete Dental Guide for Kids!