ASK A DENTIST: Top 6 Ways to Lessen Dental Anxiety in Children

What is Dental Anxiety? 

Dental anxiety – also referred to as “dental fear”-- is a state of nervousness that occurs when thinking about an impending dental appointment. Fear of the dentist is officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as odontophobia and affects nearly 20% of the population. 

But, how does dental anxiety affect your kiddos?

Studies have shown that nearly 10% of children have experienced severe dental anxiety, affecting ages as young as 5 years old. Dental anxiety in children can also range in severity. Some kids may experience mild stress and nervousness, while others may throw intense tantrums and have difficulty calming down. 


What are the Symptoms of Dental Anxiety in Children?

If you are a parent of a child with dental anxiety, it can be easy to miss subtle warning signs. While dental anxiety presents itself differently from child to child, your kid will most likely experience one of the following: 

  • ⭐️ Irritability
  • ⭐️ Dizziness or fainting 
  • ⭐️ Trouble sleeping the night before an appointment
  • ⭐️ Flushed cheeks or sweating even in cool temperatures
  • ⭐️ Constantly “feeling sick” in hopes the appointment may be canceled 
  • ⭐️ Heightened emotions before, during, or after their dental appointment 

Why Do Children Develop Dental Anxiety? 

Fear of the Known and Unknown 

Your child may be scared of the known aka any previous bad experiences they may have had at the dentist. Naturally, they don’t want to go through another situation that made them uncomfortable. 


Other times, your child may be scared of the unknown. Their active imagination can run wild and scare them if they aren’t properly prepped for what they are about to experience. I talk more about this in the video above. 

Lack of Confidence in Dental Habits

Your child may also be insecure about their current brushing or flossing habits. This is normal! Reassure them the dentist isn’t there to scold them, but to help them get the best smile ever. 


🦷️ Toothy Tip: If your child is struggling to find motivation to brush regularly, I highly recommend trying the AutoBrush Pro: Kids. It’s easy, fast, and makes brushing much more engaging than average toothbrushes.


How to Cure Dental Anxiety in Children

Helping your child overcome their fear of the dentist is essential to ensure they receive proper dental care for the years to come. If their fear persists throughout their youth, this can create a never ending cycle of avoiding the dentist even into adulthood. 


The best way to “cure” your child’s dental anxiety is by supporting them in building a trusting relationship with dentistry.


Below are my top 6 suggestions on how to help kids overcome dental anxiety. 


Role Play at Home 

Believe it or not – most kids aren’t directly scared of the dentist. They are scared of the unknown. If your child is especially anxious, try role playing going to the dentist. Pretend play is a natural and comfortable way for kids to learn new life skills. During your playtime, lean your child back in a chair and guide them through the basic steps of a dental appointment. 


Remember – only talk positively about the experience. I will explain more why this is important in the next section. 


Unsure what to expect during your child’s appointment? Watch the videos below:

Speak positively of the experience 

It stinks to have a bad experience at the dentist. In fact, you might have gone through one yourself and are more nervous for your kid’s appointment than they actually are. Try to control your own thoughts on the dentist and reassure them that they will be fine. After all, we are always there to HELP, not hurt your child. 


Words have a powerful impact on children. Avoid using phrases or mentioning the following… 

  • ⭐️ Sharp tools 
  • ⭐️ Yanking teeth out
  • ⭐️ Scary or painful procedures
  • ⭐️ Getting “the shot” if they are misbehaving 

    Instead highlight how awesome it feels to have super clean teeth or the fun chair they get to lay back in. For younger kids, it can also be helpful to hype up the new toothbrush or toy they will receive at the conclusion of their appointment. 


    Visit the dentist regularly 

    Prevention is key to healthy, happy mouths + painless dental exams. 


    Just like you wouldn’t wait to start brushing and flossing your teeth until you spot a cavity, you don’t want to wait until your child is in pain to take them to the dentist.


    Not only would this make for a traumatic first impression, but most dental issues are completely preventable with the guidance of a dentist


    🦷️ Toothy Tip: Check-ups and teeth cleanings are also much more affordable than dental issue treatment.

    Be mindful of naptime 

    The time of the day for your child’s appointment is important. 


    For example…


    Some children are really tired from school at the end of the day so they are less cooperative if they have an afternoon appointment. In this situation, it’s best to bring your child in for a mid-morning appointment when they are at their happiest. 


    Other children are better when they are tired (and have had time to get their wiggles out) so after school or mid-afternoon appointments are better. They will be less hyper and more relaxed to allow for examination and treatment if needed.


    As a parent, you know your kid best! Advocate the best time for child when booking their next appointment.


    Let them bring their favorite stuffed animal 

    If your kid has a favorite small toy or stuffed animal that brings them comfort, by all means, let them bring it. As long as the toy isn’t disruptive and it is kept out of their mouth – there is no problem with them holding it during their examination or cleaning. 


    Trust the dental team to know what they are doing


    Don't be a "Helicopter Mom/Dad". (You know who you are 👀)


    Let the dentist communicate with your child and if they need your assistance – they will ask you. 


    We are trained in communication with children. So, when a parent is hovering or saying things that are not part of our communication with the child, it ends up being more disruptive than helpful. 


    Have trust and if possible send your child back alone. Yes, without your company. Sometimes when parents are around, children will become "babies" hoping their parents will save them and get them out of things they do not want to do. We as dentists are here to help your child, not hurt them. So trust that we have the best interest in your child's health and safety.


    About Dr. Gibbz 

    Dr. Younan completed his undergraduate studies at CSU Fresno and went on to A.T. Still University in Arizona, where he earned his D.M.D and MPH Degrees. Dr. Younan combined his passion for giving back to those in need and his passion for entertainment to form a 501c3 non profit organization called Entertainment Healers. As part of his non-profit work, he also goes by the alias Dr. Gibbz. With this Dr. Gibbz persona, he creates dental education videos using popular songs and changing the lyrics to provide oral health information. Dr, Younan has a goal to make health a "popular" thing. As the saying goes,” Health is Wealth.” 


    Want to hear more from Dr. Gibbz?


    ⭐️ Dr. Gibbz’s Youtube Channel 

    ⭐️ Dr. Gibbz’s Instagram


    What to Read Next…

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    Toothbrush for Autism: Helping Kids with Autism Keep Dental Problems at Bay


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