Helping Kids Overcome Their Fear of the Dentist

As humans, we are all scared of the unknown. To an adult, going to the dentist is a routine part of life, but for a child, especially one who has never been, the dentist is unfamiliar and scary. Small children often think going to the dentist will hurt, or they simply don’t know what to expect. They may have seen you recover from a pulled tooth or root canal and imagine the worst, or they simply equate going to the dentist with going to the doctor, where they receive vaccinations or other uncomfortable things happen. To create a sense of safety and peace about going to the dentist, parents must demystify the experience and make it seem familiar.

Be a Good Role Model

There are several ways to be a good dental role model to your child. First, take your child with you next time you have to go in for a routine cleaning. Let him or her watch the entire process, and talk to your child about what the dentist is doing. Smile while you’re getting examined and let your child know that a trip to the dentist is painless. Talk about how great your teeth feel afterward. Another way to be a good dental role model is to brush and floss each day, and let your child see your hygiene habits, while helping your child engage in her own habits by brushing daily.

Read Books About the Dentist

Getting the information in a fun, colorful book puts kids’ minds at ease. There are numerous books written about going to the dentist. These usually outline what happens at the dentists’ office, and put characters in funny situations so kids can see that going to the dentist isn’t really a big deal. If they see their favorite characters getting their teeth cleaned, they will see that it’s not so bad. A few books to start with include Show Me Your Smile!: A Visit to the Dentist (Dora the Explorer) by Christine Ricci, Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer, Behold! No Cavities!: A Visit to the Dentist (SpongeBob Squarepants) by Nickelodeon, and Tooth Trouble by Jane Clarke.

Role Play

Sometimes acting out a situation helps alleviate kids’ fears when they are actually in the situation. For instance, playing “dentist office” with your kids helps them become familiar with what happens in a dentist’s office and they can prepare themselves for the visit a little bit better. Set up a pretend dentist’s chair in the dining room or living room, and pretend to be the dentist. Check your child’s teeth, talk about X-rays, and pretend to look inside your child’s mouth and count teeth. Talk to your child about how the tooth polisher brushes teeth up nice and clean, and sometimes it even tickles a little bit. Thank your child for the “visit” and give him or her a sticker. Now your child will be a little better prepared for the real thing!

Comfort and Distract

For small children, going to the dentist means being away from their mom, favorite stuffed toy, or other item (or person) of comfort. This can lead to tears, and an unsuccessful trip to the dentist. Prevent this situation by talking to the dentist to see if you can accompany your child inside for the first visit. Ask the dental assistant if your child can bring his or her favorite stuffed animal or blanket to soothe him or her while sitting in the chair. Talk to your child and make jokes before the visit starts to make your child feel happy and comfortable. Sometimes adding humor to the situation is relaxing and familiar, and makes the office seem a bit less frightening.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Of course, most kids may not understand that going to the dentist has its own rewards; beautiful teeth, a healthy smile, and lifelong good hygiene habits. Instead, you may need to maximize some other positive rewards. Most pediatric dentists hand out stickers or small toys after a visit. Tell your child about the cool toy they will get once they get their teeth cleaned and have sat nicely in the dental chair for the visit. Alternately, offer to take your child to a place they really love once the visit is over, such as the toy store to pick out a small toy, a matinee movie, or the bowling alley. Link going to the dentist with a fun event to make it seem a little more thrilling, and continue this tradition each time you go, so your child knows to expect something a little special after each visit.

Helpful Links:

  • 8 Tips to Help Kids Overcome Fear of DentistsThis Parents magazine article offers 8 helpful tips to encourage preschoolers to reduce their fear of going to the dentist. The tips help parents provide support and help for kids who are scared of their first dental visit.
  • Visiting the DentistAn article found on the Aquafresh toothpaste website, this piece helps parents by letting them in on some useful tips for coping with their child’s fear of their dental visit, and some suggestions to make visits less stressful.
  • Easing Your Child’s Fear of the DentistMedical website WebMD examines why children are afraid of the dentist, what parents can do to minimize this fear, and what parents can expect from the dentist when children are afraid.
  • Easing Children’s Fears of the DentistMedicineNet brings a few suggestions to parents about how to handle worried kids before a dental visit, and ways the dentist can help alleviate fears.
  • Parents’ Fear of Dentist May Get Passed On To KidsParents may not realize that the things they say affect their kids, but this US News article lets parents know that their words about dental visits, and their fears, may get handed down to their kids, and what they can do about that.
  • Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy – This site provides information about why it is so important that you start teaching your kids about proper dental care early. It also includes information on why you should choose a pediatric dentist for your children.
  • Helping Kids with Special Needs Conquer A Fear of the Dentist – This article from the Corporation for National & Community Service provides information meant to help kids with special needs be prepared to calmly visit the dentist.
  • Children’s Perception of Their Dentists – This study was done to assess the feelings children have for their dentists.
  • Dental Exam for Children – The Mayo Clinic provides this resource about dental exams for kids, including what to expect and how to prepare.
  • After the Dentist Reward Certificates – These reward certificates can be printed out and given to children after a dentist visit as a reward.
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