Dental Anxiety in Kids

Dental anxiety can affect anyone, but children are particularly susceptible, with 42% of children reporting that they experience dental fear. As a parent, you want to protect your child from real and perceived dangers—but what do you do when your child is scared of visiting the dentist?   

Read on to learn more about pediatric dental anxiety in children and how you can help your kids deal with their fear of going to the dentist.   

Is It Normal for Kids to Be Scared of The Dentist?  

It's perfectly common for young patients to be scared, stressed, or anxious when visiting the dentist or when experiencing any new situation, for that matter. After all, many adults share those same feelings, so you can imagine how overwhelming it can be for kids. If it's their first dentist appointment, they might just be experiencing a fear of the unknown that subsides after they get used to the new environment. However, it's essential to address this fear early in life as children who fear the dentist grow up to have dental phobia as an adult and tend to skip dental appointments due to anxiety.   

What is Dental Anxiety?  

Dental anxiety refers to the strong negative feelings associated with dental visits. It can be specific to particular procedures or tools such as a drill or needles, but some children can experience anxiety about even thinking about the dentist.   

Your child may have dental anxiety if they're peppering you with questions leading up to the dental visit, suddenly feeling sick or becoming sweaty, crying, complaining, or even throwing temper tantrums. Some children become so nervous that they refuse to go.  

What Might Make Kids Anxious About Visiting the Dentist?  

There are several reasons why kids might have a fear of the dentist. Here are some of the most common ones:   

  • Fear of pain  
  • Previous negative experiences or hearing about a bad experience from a family member or friend  
  • Fear of embarrassment due to pronounced dental issues  
  • Obstructed breathing/claustrophobia  
  • Smells and sounds of the office  
  • Feeling helpless or out of control  
  • Fear of needles or injections  
  • Fear of gagging or choking

How to Avoid Creating Anxiety Around the Dentist  

Helping children to overcome their dental anxiety is important for their long-term oral health. Here are a few tips to help your child feel less nervous about visiting the dentist:  

  • Don't use the dentist as a punishment: Never threaten your children with a visit to the dentist's office if they are not practicing good oral care at home.    
  • Avoid telling them about your fear or painful experiences at the dentist: Children are like sponges when it comes to absorbing information, so don't tell them stories about your past painful experiences or your fears about dental procedures. Don't talk about pain and loud noises, as they might choose to fixate on those parts of the experience.  
  • Only use positive language when discussing the dentist with your child: Be positive and encouraging in your discussion of the dentist and dental visits. Explain things clearly and be patient with your child as they face their anxiety about going to the dentist.  Be aware of subliminal messaging for example saying “we have to go to the dentist today” versus “we get to go to the dentist today.
  • Role-playing: Playing dentist with your child before their first visit can help them know what to expect. Let your child role-play by pretending to be the dentist and examine and clean your teeth. Then, let them pretend to be the patient, and you can pretend to be the dentist, showing them how to clean and count their teeth. They can also practice with their dolls or stuffed animals.  
  • Watch an age appropriate video: Many of your child’s favorite  videos have an episode where they go to the dentist. Be sure to preview the episode first and avoid episodes where the main character has a procedure done. Children that are going to the dentist for a simple cleaning will assume they will also have a filling placed or a tooth pulled if that’s what has happened in the episode. 
  • Don't make a fuss: It's natural to want to prepare young children before their office visit, but sometimes it's best to keep it simple. Surrounding the event with too much pressure or nervousness will only increase the child's dental anxiety.   
  • Use positive reinforcement: Compliments and praise work as effective reinforcements for children. Applauding them for their bravery and good behavior during their time in the dental chair can make a difference. Tangible rewards after the visit may also be helpful. Try to have something to look forward to after the visit like a trip to the park or a new small toy.

Pediatric Dentist in Austin, Buda, Belterra, and Bastrop

At Austin Kids Teeth, we understand how scary it is for children with dental anxiety to come in for a visit. Rest assured, our pediatric dental team is highly experienced at keeping children calm, happy, and comfortable during their visits. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!