Kids: Overcoming Fear of the Dentist

Taking kids to the dentist for checkups and cleanings is necessary for the health of their teeth and their overall well-being. It maintains their baby teeth and ensures the development of healthy permanent teeth, and helps kids learn good habits like brushing and flossing. But a strange place with lots of new people and unfamiliar stimuli can be upsetting for kids, and fear of the dentist is almost seen as a childhood rite of passage.

Help your child feel safe at the dentist
Childhood dental fear is very common, but not inevitable

Before even starting kindergarten, your child is going to need to visit the dentist’s office at least ten times, so helping your child cope and overcome dental fear will eliminate a great deal of stress for the entire family.

Start early
The first dental visit ideally takes place no more than one year after the appearance of a child’s first tooth. This is the surest way to keep the entire development process of both sets of teeth on track. It has the added benefit of acclimating your child to the dentist’s office early in life. While a baby doesn’t form clear memories like an older child, sense memory and recall of the lighting, voices, position in the exam chair, and other sense data will occur, imprinting the dentist as a known place instead of a scary new one. Sometimes this successfully minimizes or stops dental fear altogether.

Don’t discuss your own dental anxiety in front of kids
Children take on the stress of the adults in their lives. Even if you only have a mild aversion to being in the exam chair yourself, or you’re just kidding, small children aren’t the best judges of that kind of nuance. They tend to take hyperbole and sarcasm at face value, so if your little one overhears you joke or exaggerate about the dentist drilling holes in your face, that may be the literal impression they form of what’s going to happen during their checkup.

Make dental checkups about health and learning
Make dental checkups about health and learning

Don’t overload them with information
When you prepare your child for the dental checkup, don’t go into too much detail. Kids sometimes latch onto the most anxiety-inducing phrase or statement possible and disregard anything else you’ve said. Offering too much detail also opens you up to questions, which might have you scaring your child even more when attempting to answer honestly. Avoid “what if” scenarios that might needlessly frighten a child such as what happens if they need a filling; there’s no need to worry them with descriptions of processes they may not even need.

Speak their language
Avoid words like “shot” or “hurt”, and use positive ones like “smile” and “healthy”. Some pediatric dentists advise parents to say that the dentist cleans sugar-bugs off children’s teeth, or to simply tell children that the dentist needs to check their smile and count their teeth.

Healthy kids are happy kids!
Healthy kids are happy kids!

Teach them through games and books
Before your child’s visit, play a game of “dentist” at home. The “dentist” can clean the “patient’s” teeth with a toothbrush, counting or practicing the ABCs on the teeth, and looking at the teeth with a small mirror while sitting or lying down comfortably. Take turns being the dentist and patient, or your child can pretend to brush the teeth of a favorite toy. There are also lots of books for pre-school aged children that deal with friendly characters visiting the dentist and overcoming fear.

When it’s time for your little one’s appointment, trust the staff and take your cues from them regarding when to come closer and hold your child’s hand or give them some space. You know your child best, but the dentist and staff know best how to provide your child with a through checkup and cleaning.

Infinite Dental Wellness is a general dental practice that has treated entire families and provides compassionate care to patients at every stage of life. Contact us to schedule your child’s dental checkup!