Visiting the dentist may be a stressful situation for children if they don’t know what to expect. To help ease dental anxiety in children, there are several strategies a grownup can employ.
What Is Dental Anxiety in Kids?
Dental anxiety in children is characterized by a state of anxiety, fear, or nervousness produced by the thought of an impending dental appointment. Some may also call this state dental phobia or dental fear. There is also odontophobia, which is a fear of dentists.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 20% of the population struggles with dental anxiety. Although many people may not like going to the dentist, they don’t necessarily experience any anxiety, fear, or panic. Yet for some kids, the idea of having to sit and get a dental procedure done is a very frightening event. They may experience panic symptoms before a dental visit, which could eventually develop into odontophobia if these negative emotions are not managed.
Preventing Childhood Dental Anxiety: Is It Possible?
Understanding that children can experience dental anxiety, there are ways to prevent it from taking root and becoming more significate in adulthood. Parents and guardians rightfully hesitate to put their children in situations that will make them fearful or uncomfortable, but that instinct shouldn’t prevent them from seeking the necessary care for the healthy oral development of their kids.
The first and most important step in helping your child overcome dental anxiety is to help build a trusting relationship between them and their dentist. Tell the dentist about your child’s fears — any great dental team will be able to work with your child to address and manage specific concerns. You can follow other tips below to prevent dental anxiety from affecting your child.
What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Childhood Dental Anxiety?
1. Be Honest and Open With Your Child
When it comes to dealing with your child’s dental anxiety, as with most situations, it’s a good idea to be honest and open. Your child may be fearful because they don’t know what’s going to happen at their dental appointment.
Take it slow and share the details of any dental procedure ahead of time. This strategy can go a long way in calming an anxious child. When your kid asks you questions about visiting the dentist or what they can expect, don’t shy away from answering. If they sense you are holding back or being dishonest, it could have a negative impact on the way they approach their dentist.
2. Comfort Your Child
A child with dental anxiety shouldn’t ever be made to feel like their fears or nervousness are not as important as going to the dentist. Yes, parents and guardians should talk to their children about dental procedures and how the dentist helps them maintain their oral health. But there should be comforting gestures, too, such as the following:
- Let your child bring whatever comforts them, such as a blanket or stuffed toy
- Let your child know that you’ll be with them the whole time you’re at the dentist
- Make the most of distractions, such as music or mobile devices
- Practice relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing exercises
- Provide positive reinforcement with rewards, such as ice cream after the dental visit
3. Don’t Delay Your Child’s Dental Care
It can be tempting for parents and guardians to delay pediatric dentist appointments when their children have dental anxiety. However, delaying regular appointments for dental exams, X-rays, and teeth cleanings can lead to poor oral health—and it can also result in your child being unfamiliar with their dentist and what happens during a dental visit. This unfamiliarity will only make matters worse. By making dental care part of your child’s routine, they will know what to expect and be more comfortable with the idea of going to the dentist.
4. Figure Out What’s Triggering Your Child’s Fears
One of the best ways to help children overcome dental anxiety is to understand which fear of theirs is being triggered. The most common fears that can develop in kids include the following:
- Fear of anesthesia. Some kids are uncomfortable with the idea of being put to sleep and then not being aware of what’s happening to them.
- Fear of embarrassment: Some children have very obvious dental issues, such as dental deformities or tooth decay. They may feel self-conscious about it, especially if they’ve been teased about their dental issues.
- Fear of injections or needles: Knowing there is some pain associated with needles can be very intimidating for kids.
- Fear of pain: After hearing about painful dental experiences from other people or from media they’re exposed to, it’s hard for children not to expect the same.
- Fear of panicking or loss of control: Being in a dental chair as somebody performs a procedure can lead to anxiety and panic.
As you begin to understand your child’s anxiety and what is triggering those feelings, it should be easier to ease their concern.
5. Find the Right Family Dentist for Your Child
It’s essential to find the right family dentist. You should ask dentists about what methods they use to help calm the nerves of their patients and what they do to make every appointment a more positive experience for children with dental anxiety.
Ready to Learn More About the Family Dentistry Services of Columbia Smiles?
If you’re looking for family dentistry in Columbia, Maryland, contact Dr. Michael Hsu at Columbia Smiles today. You can call 410.690.4855 or reach out to our team online.