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7 tips to overcome children’s fear of the dentist

7 tips to overcome children's fear of the dentist

How to ease your child’s anxiety about going to the dentist

Dental fear is perfectly natural and it’s extremely common for children to get a little anxious about hopping into the dental chair. The good news is that it’s also curable!

The Point Dental team specialises in treating clients with acute dental anxiety, including young patients and toddlers. A child’s oral health is a critical part of their overall well-being, not just physically, but mentally and socially — there’s nothing so heartbreaking as a child that’s ashamed of their smile. 

In this guide, we’ll teach you how to help your children manage their fear of the dentist. With any luck, they might even start looking forward to it!

Contact The Point Dental for fear-free children’s dentistry in Melbourne. From routine checkups to treatment for decaying or damaged teeth, we’ll make sure your little ones grow strong, healthy teeth.

Why do children fear the dentist?

Common reasons children fear the dentist include:

  • Painful or scary past experiences
  • Fear of prodding, buzzing dental instruments
  • Uncertainty about what dental procedures actually are
  • Dislike of the dentist or dental staff in particular
  • Dislike of serious medical settings

Like many adults, children can also have an intense fear of the unknown. If they’ve never been to the dentist, their imaginations will take over. Their imagination may be influenced by dental visit stories from their friends, depictions in media, or just their own creativity.

Signs of dental fear in children

Children are usually quite happy to express their emotions, even if they can’t quite explain them. But some children can be harder to read, or may not have quite the vocabulary to express their anxiety about an upcoming dental appointment.

Common signs of anxiety in children before dental visits include:

  • Irritability and aggressiveness without cause
  • Restlessness and lack of focus
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nervous ticks, like restless legs, toe tapping or finger tapping 
  • Sweating
  • Low blood pressure

It’s important to watch for these signs, even if your child indicates they’re alright. Unprocessed anxiety can develop into a deep-rooted phobia of dental treatment later in life.

Let’s take a look at how you can help your children overcome their fear.

7 methods for easing children’s fear of the dentist

1. Remove the mystery

Explain to your children what a dentist is and what they do in specific but straightforward terms. Kids can grasp the concept of a ‘tooth doctor’, but take the time to explain the process of getting your teeth checked and cleaned, or of having your braces put on. Talk to them about the kinds of tools dentists use, since those tend to be what kids fear most.

You don’t need to be an expert to explain a trip to the dentist. In fact, it’ll probably be more helpful not to explain it as a lecture.

Roleplay gaming is a great great way to remove the mystery around an upcoming dental procedure. You play the dentist and let your child play as themselves. Use teaspoons as mouth mirrors to look around their teeth, chopsticks as a sickle probe or syringe, and the child’s toothbrush as, well, a toothbrush. Once you’ve modelled how to look at teeth, test them and clean them, let your kids practice on you.

Sharing your own positive experiences will also help settle your children’s fears. Talk to them about how friendly your childhood dentist was, or how you found the experience of a particular procedure. It will be helpful to also talk about your own fears and the support you had in the room; for example, how your own parent held your hand and helped you feel brave.

It’s essential that you do not lie to your children about what will happen to them. That can break their trust in you and their dentist. Be honest about how things can feel scary and uncomfortable, but how everything works out in the end.

2. Use positive reinforcements, not threats

We’ve known plenty of parents who’ve cajoled uncooperative toddlers into brushing their teeth properly by threatening them with a trip to the dentist. Surely you’ve heard a parent deny their child a sugary treat because it would upset the dentist, or that the dentist would know if they hadn’t been flossing.

If you use a trip to the dental office as a threat, your children will be petrified when it’s time to actually go.

But many of us are parents ourselves, and we understand it can sometimes be easier to get your kids to listen to some other authority than yourself.

You can help build your children’s confidence by talking about how impressed and proud the dentist will be of their good behaviour. If your kids still insist against your rules, tell them you can both ask your wise dentist about proper oral hygiene habits the next time you visit.

If your children see their dentist as an approachable authority they can come to with questions, they’ll feel much safer.

3. Plan something fun after the dentist, and tell your kids about it

Try not to make going to the dentist the main event of the day. 

Book your child’s appointment at the start of the day, and then schedule a more child-friendly event right after the dentist. In the week leading up to their appointment, hype them up about the event, whether it’s going to the pool or the grandparents’ place.

Make it seem like the dentist is just a stop on the way to your real plans, and your children will feel far less anxious.

4. Stay calm and bright

Children look to their parents to model their own reactions to new situations. If your children are anxious, and you respond by getting stressed, it’ll only worsen their dread.

Calm your kids by staying calm yourself. Laugh and joke with them. Listen to their favourite songs in the car. But remember to keep talking about the dentist appointment — don’t let them feel like you’re tiptoeing around it. Show them you’re not worried, and they won’t be either.

5. Tell the dentist how your kids feel

Don’t let your dentist be surprised by a screaming, crying or terrified toddler. The last thing we want to do is force a procedure on someone who doesn’t like it.

Tell your dentist that your child is anxious, and we can prepare to help you settle them. If we know how they feel, we can take a few extra minutes to explain our job to them, let them look at the tools or play with the big tinted protective glasses.

We’ll build a rapport with them before we get started, so they know they’re in safe hands.

6. Find a paediatric dentist

Paediatric dentistry is the practice of providing dental and oral care to children. Paediatric dentists are quite literally authorities on calming kids with dental anxiety.

A paediatric dentist will know how to talk to your kids and explain things in an age-appropriate way. They’ll likely have endless games, songs and stories to tell. Even their offices will be child-friendly, with walls decorated with cartoons and, more than likely, toys and books for kids to play with.

7. Consider sleep dentistry

Sleep dentistry is the process of sedating patients until they are unconscious before their dental procedure.

Sleep dentistry is a safe and effective procedure for helping acutely anxious children get dental care.

The Point Dental team specialise in deep sedation, so get in touch if you’re concerned that your child might be too afraid of the dentist to be calmed by any other means.

We can help your child overcome their fear of the dentist

We began our practice with the express mission to help even the most dentist-averse people get the care they need. We’ve helped countless patients overcome their anxieties, and we have no doubt our Melbourne children’s dentists can help your toddlers and teens, too. Book a consultation to discuss your options today.