Many children do not like going to the dentist, but 20% are actually afraid of dental visits, something called dental anxiety or dental phobia.
For these children, an upcoming visit to the dentist is more than just an appointment, it is can be something to fear or even dread.
If you have a child in this state of mind, you are probably wondering what you can do to help them calm down and relax, especially if their fear is keeping them from receiving the dental care they need!
We hope these 7 ways to calm your child’s dental anxiety help!
1. Start Early and Be Consistent
We recommend that you take your child to the dentist as early as 6 months old or before their first birthday. This early exposure will make inroads into calming their dental anxiety from a young age, making dental visits easier as they get older and are more comfortable with the dentist.
It is also a good idea to visit the dentist on a regular basis so that your child becomes used to dental visits. Pick a dentist and stick with them so that your child can build a comfortable relationship with them.
2. Choose the Right Dentist
Find a dentist who has experience with young children and helping them calm their dental anxiety. The dentist should know how to gently explain dental procedures to children, and they should have a few tips and tricks up their sleeve for managing the dental visit.
3. Talk to Your Child About Their Visit
Prepare your child for their dental visit by telling them about it in advance and allowing them adequate time to mentally process. Speak calmly and gently explain what is going to happen. Do not tell them bad stories about your own visits to the dentist and avoid using words like “hurt,” “shots,” or “painful.” Describe the dentist as someone who helps them stay healthy. Answer any questions they may have and tell them that they can ask the dentist questions at their appointment too!
Dolls, stuffed animals, and children’s books about dental visits can be helpful tools for explaining the dentist to your child.
4. Model Good Behavior
Your child is constantly looking to you for what they should think about the world around them how they should respond emotionally. Remain calm and collected when you talk about the dentist and avoid taking your child with you on your own visit. Even if you think you are relaxed, children can pick up on subtle emotional clues that could worsen their anxiety.
5. Practice Relaxation
Before and during your child’s visit to the dentist, practice regulated, deep breathing with them. Show them how this technique can be used to calm them down whenever they feel afraid. You may also practice progressive relaxation, where your child closes their eyes and slowly tenses and relaxes their muscle groups one-by-one from head to toe.
6. Use Distraction
There are several ways you can distract your child from their dental anxiety during a dental visit:
- Engage them in conversation
- Discuss a recent, fun event or experience
- Tell a story
- Ask them to count something in the room
- Allow them to play with a favorite toy
- Play music
7. Exercise Positive Reinforcement
When your child displays good behavior at the dentist or is particularly brave about some part of the procedure, praise them! This will encourage them to use that behavior again in the future.
Alternatives for Children with Dental Anxiety
If none of these methods work, you may want to consider sedation dentistry for your child, or cognitive therapy.
Dr. Owen Mandanas has almost 20 years of experience working with young children at Mandanas Dental. If you would like to learn more about how she has learned to manage childhood dental anxiety, give us a call! We would love to help you make your child’s visits to the dentist as painless as possible.