How can I help my child fear the dentist less?

The following are tips to encourage your child to go to the dentist:

  • Schedule the first visit between the arrival of the first tooth and your child's first birthday.
  • Schedule a morning appointment when children tend to be rested and cooperative.
  • Emphasize the positive! The dentist will help to keep your child's teeth healthy; keep to yourself any anxiety that you might feel about dental visits.
  • Don't bribe your child to go to the dentist.
  • Never use the visit as a punishment or threat!
  • Try to make your child's dental visit an enjoyable outing.

Everyone knows that children are impressionable, and many people who avoid dental care as adults recall traumatic experiences at the dentist as children. Unfortunately, the absence of routine dental care can cause painful infections of the teeth and gums, broken and discolored teeth, and bad breath. Fear of the dentist is a major reason for dental neglect, and can almost always be avoided.

The conduct of the dentist is directly related to the development of dental fear in children and adults. The past experience that causes the most fear is the memory of a dentist causing pain during treatment and then humiliating the person when they complained. The dentist saying denigrating things like, "This isn't hurting you," or "Stop being a baby" compound the painful experience at the dental office. Even though the pain from the treatment fades quickly, the insensitive comments made by the dentist continue to live on in the minds of the children and are often carried through to adulthood.

Consider these tips:

The dentist should be sensitive to the needs of each individual child. Patience and care during treatment will prevent anxiety in future visits.

Dentists should encourage parents to bring their children to the dentist by age two, earlier if there is noticeable discoloration of the baby teeth or if the child is signaling pain. The sooner the child is seen, the less likely the child will have extensive dental problems.

If dental treatment is required, the dentist should usually start with the procedure that will be easiest for the child to tolerate. This allows the child to build confidence for future visits.

The dentist should avoid giving local anesthesia for simple fillings, if possible. Newer technologies, like air abrasion and lasers can effectively remove decay in many cases, avoiding the fear evoking needle and the prolonged feeling of numbness.

The dentist should consider conservative treatment for children's baby teeth. Treatment that is less involved, takes less time, and causes less discomfort is also less likely to contribute to fear in the future.

Having a television in the treatment room with an age appropriate station will help children cope with the clinical setting of the dental office. A small toy after successful treatment gives the child something positive to associate with their dental visit.

Children who need extensive dental care or those that cannot be managed by the family dentist may best be treated by a specialist called a Pedodontist.

Peggy Rosen

Parents can help children have less fear of the dentist by:

  1. Talk to children in simple terms about the dental procedure such as dental exam, cleaning and fillings before dental appointment. 
  2. Read dental book for children to better prepare them to the dental office environment.
  3. Explaining to the children how important it is to take good care of their teeth and gum and explain to their children that the dentist's job is to help them keep their teeth and gums healthy.
  4. Make their first appointment with the dentist as soon the first tooth erupts in their mouth. This way the children will have a first pleasant experience in the dental office.
  5. Bring children's favorite toys, music, etc. during dental appointment
Children pick up on their parent's anxieties -- the first thing you can do is present the idea of the Dentist in a positive light -- and don't tell them your fears -- things that may have happened to you most likely will not happen to your child. Dentistry is a much gentler profession and the focus is keeping the patient happy and comfortable. Read a few books to your child -- like “The Berenstain Bears Go to the Dentist" and many others. 

If your child has had a bad experience at the Dentist, see if you can speak to your Dentist about doing things differently at the next visit. Make sure the Dentist tells the child everything that is happening. Communication is very helpful when treating kids!
Keep it simple and use words that don't trigger anxiety.
  • What not to say: Don't worry, be brave, everything will be ok, I am scared too.
  • What to say: This person is going to count your teeth and if you are really good, he might even clean them for you!
Practice at home
  • Have your child lie on his back on a bed (or on your legs) and brush his/her teeth.
  • Let the child help brush their teeth.
  • Use videos and books.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.