How to Help Your Anxious Kid Feel More Comfortable During Their Dental Appointments
Dental anxiety is a very common and very normal reaction for kids to experience when they begin to see a pediatric dentist.
Unlike dental anxiety in adults, dental anxiety in kids generally stems from a fear of the unknown. The sights, sounds, and smells of a dental practice are very foreign, not to mention their dentist and dental teams will be complete strangers to them.
Considering these factors, it’s understandable that many kids—even very outgoing, extroverted kids–often feel nervous or insecure when visiting a dentist.
Many kids show fairly typical signs of dental anxiety.
Some of the most common signs of dental anxiety in kids revolve around a fearful response. Infants and toddlers may cry and scream while older kids may voice their concerns by saying they’re afraid. You may even notice that your normally confident child is also showing nervous or shy body language.
But dental anxiety isn’t always immediately obvious.
It’s also important to remember that some kids don’t exhibit typical dental anxiety behaviors. For example, a normally rambunctious child may suddenly be unusually calm, quiet, or even withdrawn at the dentist. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a normally quiet, calm child may suddenly be very argumentative, grumpy, or act quite upset at the dentist.
As a parent, only you truly know what’s normal for your child, and if you notice unusual behavior, it’s worth speaking with your child to see what might be going on.
Your child’s fear of the dentist doesn’t need to be a permanent emotion they experience during dental appointments.
Let’s take a look at a few ways you can ease your child’s anxiety during their trips to the dentist.
1. Use positive language when speaking about the dentist and refrain from sharing your negative experiences.
One of the most important things you can do to ease your child’s dental anxiety is to use positive language. Even young kids can tell if their parents seem nervous or anxious, which leads them to feel as though they should feel this way too. When talking about the dentist, refrain from using negative terms or from accidentally sharing any bad experiences you’ve had.
2. Explain what will happen during their visit before arriving at their appointment.
Setting your child up for a successful dental appointment starts by telling them what will happen during their visit. Using age-appropriate language, explain what their dentist will be doing and how it will benefit your child. For example, if your child is due for a cleaning, give them a rundown on what the cleaning will be like and emphasize how shiny and healthy their teeth will be afterward.
3. Avoid bribery, but plan for a reward after their appointment is finished.
Bribery to get through a dental appointment is tempting, but rarely does it positively impact behavior in kids. In some cases, it can actually make their dental anxiety worse by alluding to the idea that a bribe is needed because a dentist is a scary person to visit. A better method is to plan for a nice reward after their appointment for them to look forward to if they practice good behavior.
4. Read books about the dentist or try to find a dental episode of their favorite cartoon.
Young kids who are new to seeing the dentist won’t have any idea of what to expect. A good way to help them prepare for this new event is to read children’s books about visiting the dentist. You can also look up your child’s favorite cartoons and see if any of them have positive episodes about the dentist.
5. Teach your child stress-relieving breathing exercises and positive affirmations they can use during their appointment.
Breathing exercises are a fantastic way for kids to relieve stress, anxiety, and frustration. Many breathing techniques can also be used before or during your child’s appointment. Here is a very helpful website that explains a few kid-friendly breathing exercises that can be adapted for dental anxiety. Internally repeating positive affirmations can also be really helpful, especially for school-age kids and teens.
6. Encourage your child to take charge and be independent by asking questions and speaking directly to their dentist.
Anxious kids tend to want to slink back and let their parents take charge. This is natural, but it doesn’t help kids grow past their dental anxiety. Be reassuring and a source of comfort, but encourage your child to also be independent. If they have a question or comment, guide them towards speaking directly to their dentist rather than through you. This will help them to build a relationship with their dentist and feel more confident.
7. Visit a dedicated pediatric dentist rather than a general or family dental practice.
Family dental practices are a great choice for some families, but they often lack the specialized care that kids with dental anxiety can really benefit from. Pediatric dentists and their staff are accustomed to working with kids of all ages and have a tremendous amount of experience in helping anxious kids. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable with their current family dentist, has severe dental anxiety, or has dental anxiety in addition to special needs, a pediatric dentist is the best choice.
8. Be consistent with their preventive care appointments and consider more frequent visits for severe dental anxiety.
Consistency is the key to helping kids break free from their dental anxiety. Schedule their preventive care appointments at the frequency recommended by their dentist. Most preventive care appointments occur every 6 months, but if your child is showing severe dental anxiety, you may work with their pediatric dentist to book more frequent visits to help with desensitization.
You can schedule your child’s next appointment with Must Love Kids right now.
If your child is due for their next appointment, you can book a visit now by calling our office or filling out this handy online form. For families new to Must Love Kids, you can find our new patient registration form on this webpage.