Dental Anxiety in Children: What It Looks Like and How to Best Combat It

Dental anxiety in children

Few children look forward to a visit with the dentist, but for some children, the concern and anxiety about such a visit can go much further. Dental anxiety in children is a serious issue that can lead to children not receiving the care they need during development and beyond.

As a parent, it is essential to understand what dental anxiety is and what you can do about it.

What does dental anxiety in children look like?

Dental anxiety and dental phobia are relatively common among children. These children can show an extreme aversion to visiting the dentist and display a variety of symptoms ahead of and during any visit. Ten percent of children have experienced severe dental phobia, which can make providing proper dental care a significant challenge.

Your child can show different symptoms of dental anxiety at different stages of development. In many cases, you may see the common signs of anxiety, such as nervousness or feeling on edge. In more serious cases, children might even exhibit sweating, shortness of breath, and shaking.

Dental anxiety in children can lead to significant resistance to dental visits. It can also lead to difficulties during treatment, with the child refusing or being unable to remain still and calm during examinations or treatment. Without the cooperation of the child, the risk of complications or even injury during treatment can be greatly increased.

The ramifications of dental anxiety can be very serious. Children can find themselves without important dental care, allowing common issues like tooth decay and orthodontic problems to progress and worsen. Even where these problems aren’t present, the overall experience for the child can be incredibly taxing.

Why do children experience dental anxiety?

There are many factors that can contribute to dental anxiety in children. Individual children can vary in how frightened or anxious they are about the dentist, but additional factors such as prior negative experiences, social anxiety, or special needs can lead to serious dental anxiety.

Children need to feel that the dentist’s office is a safe place. But if they’ve had a bad experience with a dentist, they may not feel that way. Treatment for serious dental issues can sometimes cause pain, and there is also the risk of accidents during routine procedures. 

Even when there isn’t a long-term health impact, such an event can deeply upset a child and lead to ongoing dental anxiety.

Underlying social anxiety can also be a major factor in dental anxiety. Children with social anxiety can struggle with unfamiliar situations, and a visit to the dentist can be just that. Visiting the dentist can be a straining experience even for children without social anxiety, and the condition can make that experience much worse.

Your child may also show heightened sensitivity to light, noise, and changes in environment. A dentist’s office that doesn’t operate with these factors in mind could prove overwhelming. There is a wide range of other special needs that can also contribute to dental anxiety.

What can parents do to help?

There are many steps you can take to help achieve anxiety-free dental visits for your child. Keeping up with routine dental checkups is among the most effective ways to do so. This will familiarize your child with visiting the dentist, and catching issues early can eliminate the need for more invasive and uncomfortable treatments.

You can also play dentist with your child or read books about visiting the dentist. Helping your child understand the concept of visiting the dentist and what that entails can set them at ease. It’s also important to discuss visits well in advance, as short notice of a visit can greatly increase dental anxiety.

Try to avoid negative or concerning language about the dentist. Instead of using terms like “drill,” “shot,” or “pain” when discussing treatments, focus on “cleaning,” “protecting,” and “strengthening” teeth.

Talking about potential fears with your child can also help. To avoid those fears from developing in the first place, you should be careful not to contextualize the dentist as a punishment for poor oral hygiene.

It can be easy to list fillings as a consequence of not brushing their teeth, but this instills the image of the dentist’s office as a place to be avoided.

And as a parent, you are your child’s most important reference for behavior. If you model tools for coping with anxiety, such as deep breathing, it is more likely that your child will give them a try too.

Choosing the Best Pediatric Dentist for Your Child

One of the best things you can do to combat dental anxiety in children is to choose the right pediatric dentist. If your child experiences dental anxiety, a general dentist may not be able to provide the best environment or experience for their needs.

Omaha Pediatric Dental Specialists offers a warm environment and compassionate care for children with various needs. We can help you and your child through dental anxiety to ensure continued oral health and the best possible experience.

To schedule an appointment with your experienced pediatric dentist in Grand Island, Omaha, Hastings, and North Platte, NE, contact us today.