8 Ways to Help a Child Who’s Afraid of the Dentist

team member working with a young patient

The dentist can be a fun, happy place.

Seeing the dentist regularly will help you have a healthier, happier life. And there is no time in history where dental visits are more comfortable and convenient than they are today. However, studies show that more than half of adults are afraid of going to the dentist. Dental anxiety is a recognized condition that affects patients of all ages just as white-coat syndrome affects those who have anxiety about medical settings. We’re on a mission to parents and children just how fun it is to go to the dentist!

Here are 8 ways you can help your child see the fun in it too.

1. Choose the right dentist.

Do your research and find a reputable pediatric dentist in your area. A pediatric dentist will be well-versed in the specific health needs of children and have an office and a professional demeanor that caters to kids. When you enter their office, you should notice a warm and welcoming space with more colors, toys, and other accessories that help make it more child-friendly than the typical sterile office setting. These details are essential for putting your child at ease and making the entire experience feel less threatening.

2. Schedule visits at an early age.

Pediatric dentists recommend children come in for a visit when they reach 12 months of age or six months after their first baby tooth emerges. Scheduling a visit within the first couple of years of life will help identify any potential problems and help them get used to the dentist’s office early on. While these visits may end up being mostly informational, they will help your child establish a relationship with the dentist and a familiarity with the office, so they know what to expect during their next appointment.

3. Be cool.

To prepare your child to visit the dentist, explain how cool the whole thing is. We’ll take their picture, and we’ll take pictures of the inside of their teeth. So we can see what’s happening below the surface, and they’ll get an inside look at what makes their teeth so strong. They’ll have cool glasses to wear while one of our hygienists polishes up their teeth to be bright and shiny, and they’ll meet one of our dentists whose whole job is to help kids be healthy. It’s a cool experience!

4. Answer their questions.

Kids may not know what to expect from the dentist, and for some of us, not knowing can cause us to worry. So after you’ve explained what a cool place it is, your child might have some questions. Take the time to answer their questions. If you need a little help with those answers, let us know. We talk about dentistry in a way that makes sense to children without being alarming. Such as when a tooth needs to be extracted, we discuss “wiggling” that tooth out instead of pulling them. If a filling needs to be placed, we use a hand tool that buzzes that cavity away.

5. Read a book about visiting the dentist.

Fortunately, there is a long list of great books about visiting the dentist that are appropriate for children of all ages. Whether you want them to learn about the importance of oral hygiene or you need something creative and entertaining that will help alleviate their fear, there are plenty of options. Reading together is the perfect opportunity to establish some expectations and answer any questions.

6. Enlist the help of siblings.

If you have older kids, get them to help with some encouraging words and stories about their own experiences. Younger ones often look up to their siblings, and a little family support can help them feel like a dental visit is something they can easily handle.

7. Reward them for a job well done.

Encourage and congratulate them throughout the appointment. If they come out of the checkup without any cavities, make sure they feel like they have accomplished something. This sets a goal for their next visit and will make them want to follow instructions to receive the same praise next time around. If possible, take them out to lunch or plan a favorite activity for after the appointment. Not only does this provide a nice reward, it gives the two of you time together and a positive association with going to the dentist.

8. Consider conscious sedation.

You know your child best. If nothing seems to be working and your child’s anxiety is at a level that makes them miserable, conscious sedation might be the best option. This method uses an oral sedation medication to calm the child while keeping them fully awake during any procedure. They will be able to communicate, but they probably won’t remember much from the visit. Over time, this can help establish more positive associations with the dentist while making sure your child receives the care they need.

At Pediatric Dental Specialists of Greater Nebraska, we understand the apprehension that both children and parents face when it comes to those first visits. Our entire team is dedicated to eliminating stress so everyone can enjoy a positive experience that encourages better oral and overall health. Call us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your child enjoy a better smile. We are more than happy to answer all your questions and help you schedule an appointment.