How to Help Your Child Overcome Their Dental Anxiety

Our Dental Blog | Info & tips | 02.26.2022

There’s a question that keeps every good dental and oral health professional up at night: Why do some people fear visiting the dentist?

Is it that the chair isn’t comfortable enough? That can’t be the case, it’s fully reclining! Is it that the ceiling-mounted operatory lights resemble a UFO? Nonsense, ETs are probably friendly. Perhaps it’s all of those sterilized, shiny tools that we use to clean mouths and teeth… they are kind of pointy.

Whatever the case may be, some people definitely fear visiting the dentist. In fact, research shows that a lot of people fear visiting their local tooth doctor. According to one 2014 study, 36% of the population suffers from some form of dental anxiety or dental fear. Another 12% categorize their “dentophobia” as extreme. And when it comes to dental anxiety in children, those rates skyrocket.

A 2013 study estimated the rate of dental anxiety in children to be nearly 75%! So, if your child suffers from some form of dental fear, be it mild or severe, they are definitely not alone.

The good news is that your child’s fear of the dentist doesn’t have to prevent them from visiting the dentist’s office and getting the dental treatments they need. There are some simple measures that parents can take to ease their child’s dental anxiety.

Early Exposure Calms Nerves

Much of the fear and anxiety that children experience when visiting the dental office can stem from a lack of familiarity. Children—and let’s be honest, most adults as well—can become nervous when entering new spaces, meeting new people, and encountering new experiences. Especially when those experiences include a perfect stranger digging around in your mouth.

Help your child overcome their dental anxiety by starting them out early. They’re never too young to make trips to the dentist’s office—even if they don’t have teeth quite yet. Those early trips offer your child—and you—the opportunity to become familiar with their dental professional’s office, staff, and, most importantly, regular dental care procedures.

Don’t be shy either about requesting the same dental professionals for your child’s visits. It’s important for a child experiencing fear and anxiety to see familiar and friendly faces. Get to know Treehouse Dental Care’s dedicated team of pediatric dentists and dental hygienists and find the right fit for your child’s smile. Or schedule a virtual “meet and greet” before your child’s first official dental appointment so they can become familiar and comfortable with our staff.

Choose Your Words Wisely

It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. But also… it’s what you said.

Any parent with a child who has a severe dentist or dental phobia will know that sometimes their attempts to calm their child’s nerves only seem to make matters worse. Surprisingly, the source of our children’s anxiety may, in fact, be the language we use when trying to soothe their nerves.

Words such as “hurt” or “pain” form associations in our children’s minds that tell them that their dental experience is going to be a negative one. Try to avoid the following phrases or any that sound similar:

  • “It will only hurt a little.”
  • “It won’t hurt at all.”
  • “It’s just a little shot.”
  • “That wasn’t too painful, was it?”

Instead, use encouraging words with positive associations such as “brave” and “strong”. Phrases such as, “You’re doing such a great job,” signal to our children that they are in control of their experience and that everything is going swimmingly.

Other forms of positive reinforcement including applause and even small rewards can turn any dental frown upside down.

Curiosity Killed the Cat But It Can Cure a Kid

Kids can be—as anyone would be—skeptical and even fearful of undergoing any kind of dental procedure that they don’t understand.  Along with getting to know their pediatric dentist, part of helping your child to overcome their dental anxiety involves demystifying the dentist and dental procedures.

If your child is nervous, take the time to explain to them what kind of procedure they’re about to undergo and what their dentist will be doing. Explaining the various steps of everything from a regular checkup to a root canal will help your child feel at ease.

Even if you’re uncertain about the procedure yourself, you can always reach out to your child’s pediatric dentist and seek more information.

Sedation Dentistry for the Win

Not every child can overcome dental anxiety. Clearly, from the 2014 study we cited earlier, more than a third of people never do get over their fear of the dentist. Though it definitely breaks our hearts that some people fear the dental chair—they’re so comfy!—dentists understand that some phobias aren’t as easy to treat as bad breath.

But that doesn’t mean that your child can’t leave the dentist’s office grinning from ear to ear.

For the particular anxious, Treehouse Dental Care is proud to offer safe sleep and sedation dentistry services. Our specialists and anesthesiologists are well-equipped to ensure that your child’s waking nightmare turns into a happy dream.

Helping your child to overcome their dental anxiety is the first step toward unlocking their biggest and brightest smile. Well… that and twice-daily flossing and brushing. Whichever way you choose to help your child overcome their dental anxiety; the most important thing is to not let fear dampen their smile.

Book your child’s next appointment with Treehouse Dental Care today—the scariest thing will be how bright we can make their smile.


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