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What to Do if Your Child is Scared of the Dentist Hero

What to Do if Your Child is Scared of the Dentist

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If, for some reason, your children’s experience with early childhood dental visits didn’t work out so well, they might fear the dentist’s office. Pediatric dentistry is designed in part to help children overcome their fears. Still, you might be wondering how these fears develop and what the solution might be.

Child crying in the dentist's chair being comforted by his mother

Why Your Child Needs to Visit the Dentist Early on

Starting very early is key to dental health and psychological comfort from visiting the dentist well into adulthood. 

The Canadian Dental Association recommends starting as early as 6 months old. Your child’s first dental exam is due between the ages of 6 and 12 months old, or within 6 months of their first baby tooth’s appearance. After that first visit, they need one every 6 months or so.

Baby teeth are not permanent, but they need to be cared for nonetheless. If they degrade due to poor brushing habits at home, it can lead to more long-lasting problems, even beyond the age where they lose their baby teeth.

The Psychological Part of Child Dental Exams

At your child’s first few dental appointments, there’s a lot of focus on gentle care for your child’s teeth. That focus includes getting used to the feeling of brushing and helping them make the psychological association between dental hygiene and overall health. A lot of the preparation for feeling comfortable at the dentist’s should begin at home, even from infancy. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes starting early doesn’t dispel the fear.

Making Children’s Fear of the Dentist Go Away

Some child patients have adverse reactions before or during their visits to the dentist, including fainting, sweating, complaining, flushed expression, crying, and panic attacks. If your child has shown any of that behaviour, you might both be at your wits’ end. But neither of you are alone.

Several factors might lead to your child’s anxiety:

  • Fear of pain or history of a painful experience
  • Sight or feel of dental instruments
  • Unappealing dental setting
  • Avoidance
  • Recurring thoughts
  • Emotions concerned with possible threats
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Culture
  • Family relationships
  • Child-rearing
  • Inadequate preparation for the first dental visit

Fortunately, many of these factors can be reframed into a more positive light when parents and dentists work together with kids. Sometimes it’s all about expectations. It’s essential to help these kids readjust and learn that the dentist’s chair is a stepping stone to oral health and comfort.

Talk About the Dentist Optimistically

It’s best to begin managing your child’s expectations way ahead of the next appointment. It might not sound impactful, but generating some “hype” for your child’s next dental appointment can go a long way! It’ll help to talk about the dentist’s office like a place that’s geared toward helping them with their teeth — so they grow up healthy and strong, with a brighter smile!

Games & Media

Children learn a lot through play. Getting your child excited about dental exams and dental cleanings can start with brushing. Try making tooth brushing and flossing an activity you enjoy together as parent and child.

You can even make a game of pretending to be at the dentist where you take turns playing dentist and patient. It might make them curious about the whole process.

Ask your child if their favourite tv show characters have been to the dentist. Try watching these scenes together, and offer your own experience in support of their favourite character’s experience.

Parental Role Models

Children mould themselves after their parents, typically. Managing their expectations means getting them to understand that it’s going to be okay if they go along with what the dentist is doing. That part starts with a parent’s attitude.

Sometimes parents aren’t aware of their own feelings about the dentist’s chair, but when parents hate or fear it, children often pick up on that and mirror it. Helping your child through fear of the dentist’s might involve changing your own attitude, but you’re up to the challenge.

Helping Children Overcome Fear of the Dentist

smiling child on blue chair learning to enjoy dental cleanings with woman holding scaling tools

Research shows that having a parent model as the ideal patient actually lowers average heart rate in children with dentist’s office fears. When compared with going through a dental cleaning or exam alone, children were calmer when they watched their mothers get scaling or a seemingly invasive examination first. This procedure fits into a show-tell-do progression, leading up to full-on dental care for the child after their fears have subsided a bit.

So easing a child into dental care begins with a parental demonstration. As a complement to the pediatric dentist’s show-tell-do method, you can consider inviting your child to your next dental appointment. Try having them tag along and make it a bonding experience as they watch you enjoy a dental cleaning! Having a family dentist makes it a more familiar place, in that case.

Pediatric Dentists

Family dentistry is an excellent option for making a dental visit more kid-friendly. But even more tailored to the needs of children is pediatric dentistry. Not all dentists have training and resources on pediatric dentistry, but the methods definitely make a difference. We excel at making the experience fun, engaging, and stress-free.

Pediatric dentists often have a few tricks up their sleeves to help children get over their jitters. There’s even training to administer medications when a child’s anxiety due to a dental visit is extreme. Depending on your child’s needs, sometimes pediatric dentists will schedule a sit-down just to establish trust and get everyone comfortable.

Positive Reinforcement

You might need to be present for the next few dental exams. If you’re in the position to reassure them, try some positive reinforcement. A little praise for sitting still in the chair, opening their mouth wide, and cooperating, in general, goes a long way.

Scheduling the Next Appointment

Timing plays a huge factor, as well. Doing something at the time of day when your child is most rested tends to calm them down, so early or mid-morning after waking would be ideal. Practice these positive reframing methods as much as you can. When your child is ready, schedule or reschedule their appointment! Things are looking up: promise.

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  • Written by Dr. Reena Kaloti

    Dr. Kaloti enjoys helping people, both at personally and professionally, and have fun while doing so. She always knew she wanted a job that allowed her to do that, and spent her childhood babysitting, lifeguarding, teaching swimming lessons, and volunteering in the geriatrics unit of her local hospital. She enjoys working with patients of all ages.

    Dr. Kaloti started studying dentistry in 2000 and graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with her DMD. After practicing dentistry for five years, she decided to take some time to focus on building her family. When she returned to work, Dr. Kaloti and Dr. Minhas decided to partner up and open up West 85th Dental. Their vision was to create a warm, inviting office and a pleasant and relaxing experience that would make their patients look forward to visiting.

    At West 85th Dental, we pride ourselves on providing comprehensive dental care to all our patients by providing thorough examinations, explaining our findings clearly, educating our patients about oral hygiene, and providing multiple treatment options that allow our patients to make educated decisions about their health and care.

    When Dr. Kaloti is not seeing patients, she spends her time doing charity runs, water sports, pilates, and spending time with her family.

    More Articles by Dr. Reena Kaloti

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