Taking Kids' Fear Out of Visiting the Dentist

Child Having Fun at Dental Office

When I was a little girl, my parents had a family friend who was a dentist. While this dentist technically did a good job, he did not have much patience for children and could be a bit rough. After I refused to go back to him, my parents found Dr. Green -- a wonderful pediatric dentist who had chocolate-flavored toothpaste, which made me excited to visit his office.  When I had my own children, I never wanted them to fear going to the dentist. Here are some of my tips for an anxiety-free first check-up.

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1. Go to a pediatric practice

When choosing a dental practice, look for an office that specializes in making children feel comfortable. A pediatric dentist is a great option as they have received extra training for treating children and working on little mouths that are not always cooperative. They also have lots of tricks to keep kids occupied while they get their work done. For my children, I chose a practice that had videos and headphones in the exam room so they could watch their favorite cartoon while in the dentist chair. The prize box was also a big draw for my kids since they always respond to a little incentive.

2. Leave the Room

While part of me wanted to be there to hold their hands throughout the dental visit, I found sitting outside the room was much more effective. When I was in the room, they constantly wanted my attention. When they were alone with the hygienist and dentist, they behaved maturely and were more compliant. It’s like when a parent tries to teach their child to read, the child doesn’t always want to do it. But, when it’s a teacher, they are more apt to listen. Sometimes, kids just do better with the professionals.

3. Do Not Put Your Anxiety on Your Kids

As adults, sometimes we have fears of the dentist from when we were children. For me it was the drill, the trays for dental impressions that were always too big for your mouth, and the discomfort of taking X-rays. But, new technology as changed all of that. I was surprised to learn that when my son has his cavities filled, it’s virtually painless. For example, his dentist gives him Novocain with a vibrating needle that is more comfortable than a direct shot to the gum. Technology has changed dentistry, which is why it’s so important to put your fears aside and take your kids to the dentist with a positive attitude.

4. Tell Your Children What to Expect

Did you ever wonder why your child watches the same video over and over or asks for the same bedtime story every night? It’s because children take comfort in knowing what to expect. When it comes to a new experience such as going to the dentist, it is helpful to explain to your child before you go to the dentist exactly what will happen when they get there. When I first took my daughter to the dentist, I explained there would be games in the waiting room, the dentist would count her teeth, clean her teeth with a toothpaste flavor she chooses, and she would also receive three prizes from the prize box. This sounded like so much fun to her she was actually excited for her dental visit.

5. Prepare the Dentist for Your Child

When my son was little he had a very strong gag reflex. If you put anything in his mouth that was slightly uncomfortable like the pad for the X-ray, it could cause him to vomit. He was also highly sensitive, with a very low tolerance for any sort of discomfort or pain. I informed the dentist of these issues before he worked on him so he knew to be extra careful not to scare him or cause unnecessary anxiety. This made the dental visit and subsequent visits go much more smoothly.

When it comes to my children, healthy teeth have always been a priority. That’s why I worked very hard to make sure my children had positive dental visits and could develop trust in their dental practice. It took a little bit of research to find the right dentist, but the results were worth the effort. There is no reason any child should fear the dentist’s chair.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Natalie Pennington, DDS, April 2019

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