A large study assessing dental phobia found that 49.4% of participants suffered from a fear of dental treatment. Though this assessment looked at adults, this fear often begins early in childhood. It sounds almost unnatural to allow a person to go inside your mouth with tools. Add in the strange smells and noises of the office, and the situation can turn terrifying. However, pediatric dental care keeps your child’s buried permanent teeth healthy and prevents them from decaying before they even get their time to shine. Help your child work through their fear to keep their smile healthy. Read on to learn what to do for a child who is scared of the dentist.
Give Them Time
Children thrive with routine and predictability. This gives them a sense of security.
Don’t wait until the last minute to tell your child about their dentist appointment. This may seem like a good way to keep them from feeling worried during the weeks and days leading up to it, but your plan will backfire, and you may even lose their trust.
Use a Calendar
Instead, buy your child a special calendar. Find one they enjoy looking at and teach them how to use it.
Keep the calendar somewhere that they can easily access it to look at their schedule. Mark special events, like birthdays and playdates, to make the calendar a positive space.
When you make the dentist appointment, let your child know right away that you need to mark it in their calendar together. You might even use a special sticker, like a toothy smile face to make it fun.
Give them a weekly reminder about their appointment. Also, mention it the day before, so that they feel mentally prepared.
Educate Your Child
Not knowing why they need to see a dentist or what to expect when they get there will increase dental anxiety. Fight their fear with knowledge. Use age-appropriate explanations to help kids understand everything about dental visits.
Why We Need a Dentist
Start with why they need to go. When explaining the importance of dental checkups, kids should know:
- Teeth help us talk and chew
- We only get two sets of teeth for our entire life
- Food gets stuck in our gums, and plaque builds up
- Brushing and flossing only gets some out
- We need the dentist to remove it or teeth can rot and fall out
You can show them your teeth and their teeth in the mirror as you explain. You can also pull up a picture online to show teeth that did not get taken care of. Don’t show them anything too disturbing, or you may increase their fear.
What to Expect
If they never went to a dentist before, walk them through it at home. Be as thorough as possible.
Start by explaining the waiting room and move into the dental chair. Talk about how comfy and relaxing the chair feels.
Explain how the dentist will look in their mouth and use a tickling toothbrush to clean their teeth. Tell them about the awesomeness of x-rays and how the dentist might take pictures of their teeth with the special machine.
If you are only going in for a routine cleaning, stop there, so you do not frighten them. Your dentist will not do other procedures at this visit.
Fun Teaching Tools
In the weeks leading up to their visit, use fun teaching tools as you remind them of their appointment. Fun activities will calm their nerves about the appointment.
Some great books to read them include:
- Just Going to the Dentist (Mercer Mayer)
- Going to the Dentist (Anna Civardi)
- Dentists and What They Do (Liesbet Slegers)
- Sugar Bugs (Erica Weisz & Dr. Sam Weisz)
- Happy Tooth & Sad Tooth Audio Book (Whitney Edwards)
This fun, lighthearted reading material may even get them excited about their visit! Incorporate coloring sheets that show smiles as well.
If your child still seems afraid of the dentist, help them work through their fears with pretend play. Role-play can help them make sense of the situation.
Start by turning their favorite stuffed animals into your patient. Make it silly and fun to pique their interest.
After a while, suggest that they get checked, too. Make noises that mimic the whirring sound they may hear and pretend to get splattered by gunk to make them laugh. When you finish, gush over their brilliant smile.
Switch roles and allow them a turn at playing dentist. This will help them empathize with the person in this role, and better trust them.
Talk About Their Fears
While all the fun stuff will help them feel the excitement, they may still feel afraid. Do not ignore or downplay your child’s fears about this.
Ask them what scares them. Actively listen before responding to help them feel heard, so they trust your answer.
If they fear something that may happen, do not lie. Simply change the way they think about it.
For instance, they may fear the pain of cavity filling. If they need one, then explain the quick pinch they might feel from the novocaine and then reiterate the importance of the procedure.
Bring Their Comfort
Allow your child to bring something familiar with them. While some kids may choose a blanket, others might want a fuzzy friend.
If they bring a stuffed animal, make sure to introduce them to the dentist as well and even ask them to take a quick peek at their teeth. This will bring your little one back into their world of pretend where the dentist felt fun and safe.
No Need to Stay Scared of the Dentist
Though many people feel scared of the dentist, do not brush off your child’s fear as if it is just a normal part of life. With a little effort and a lot of love, you can help them overcome this fear.
We want to help keep your child smiling brightly! Contact us today to set up an appointment.