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Dental Anxiety

9 Great Tips To Help Your Child Deal With Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety can develop in just about any child. It can originate from their past experiences or just their natural temperament and anxiety levels. Although going to the dentist can be difficult for some, avoiding the dentist can lead to many more problems later in life. These can include pain, infection, or loss of teeth unnecessarily. At We Care Dental Care in Roanoke VA, we strive to help create long-term positive relationships between dentists and patients. Before starting my dental education, I got my bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I always like to integrate my background in psychology with my dental training to help my patients have the best experience possible.

1. Have your child “pre-meet” the dentist on social media or videos

If your dentist is active on social media, you can pre-introduce your child to the doctor before their appointment. I have had many parents tell me that they showed their children my Facebook live videos so that they could get to know me a little bit before coming to my office.

Check out our Facebook page HERE.

I like to answer common questions parents have on Facebook. Just click the link to go to my page. You will find a long list of videos and topics.

2. Show up early

Not only will this allow for time for new patient paperwork, but it will give your child time to relax and acclimate themselves to the dental office. As an adult, I think we tend to forget all these everyday experiences are new for little ones and are full of new sights and sounds. A child getting anxious might simply start from overstimulation and not fear. By allowing more time for your child to get used to the new situation you can increase their chances of having a smooth and easy appointment.

3. Roll-play at home

Pretend play is a natural way for children to learn new life skills. This might include the process for cleaning, X-rays, or an exam. By starting in a familiar place like your home you can guide your child through all the basic steps of a dental appointment. Starting at home will help keep them relaxed and comfortable. This helps to remove the fear of the unknown giving them more confidence at their next appointment.

4. Watch what you say

When I speak with a young patient, there are many terms I try to avoid, such as pain, blood, or needles. These words can be fear-inducing terms. You want to avoid priming your child to anticipate unnecessary pain or anxiety at the dental appointment.

I remember a study from one of my Psychology classes that showed two groups of people. They were both shown the same video of a car accident. The participants then had to estimate how fast the cars were going when they made contact. But there was one small difference between the two groups. One got the question "How fast were the cars when they hit?" the other asked, “How fast, were the cars going when they smashed into each other?" The “smashed” group estimated much higher speeds compared to the “hit” group even though they saw the exact same video. The words we use can have a powerful impact on the way we perceive the exact same events. Don’t let negative or fearful priming stop your child from having a positive dental appointment!

5. Let the dental team know about any past negative experiences

Has your child had a negative experience at another dentist or doctor's office? This is very helpful for me as the dentist and the rest of my team to know. This will help guide how we interact with your child, so we don't push them past their limit and trigger more anxiety and fear at future dental appointments.

6. Let the team know about sensory issues your child might have

Do loud noises or other stimuli trigger anxiety for your child? Let us know. We can try to accommodate as much as possible to avoid these unpleasant stimuli.

7. Don’t wait for your child to be in pain before their first visit

Just like grandma always used to say, an ounce of prevention is equal to a pound of cure. At We Care Dental Care, we want to spot and prevent problems before they happen. By waiting until your child is already in pain before establishing a dental home, you might be creating a tough situation down the road. Ideally, you want your child’s first experience at the dentist to be simple and easy, like coming in for a cleaning and leaving with a bouncy ball or reward and a smile. If you wait to bring them in, they’ll arrive at their first dental appointment scared and in pain. There will be treatment that needs to be done urgently and the patient may not be willing to sit to get it done. This could leave sedation as your only option for getting the treatment done.

8. Expect some fussing

Many children, my self-included, tried to test what we could get away with when we were little. If you don't want to be somewhere, you might throw a fit just to get out of it. It is important to evaluate your child's behavior to see if they are actually scared, or if they are simply trying to get out of the situation.

9. Speak in terms a kid can understand

Depending on the age of your child, you might use very different phrasing to discuss a dental problem. I could tell a patient they have been ingesting copious amounts of refined carbohydrates. This is allowing the streptococcus mutan in their oral cavity to metabolize and produce low pH byproducts that are demineralizing their enamel.

Next Steps

If you found this article useful, I have additional tips in the line below.

This article was written by Dr. Benjamin Burkitt DMD a licensed dentist in Roanoke VA.

While he was studying psychology at Temple University, Dr. Burkitt learned how rewarding it can be to help people in need and make them smile. With a natural inclination for making people laugh and putting them at ease, Dr. Burkitt realized how well-suited he was for a career in dentistry. Since earning his DMD at the Kornberg School of Dentistry, Dr. Burkitt has worked with thousands of patients, changing their lives one smile at a time.