Going to the dentist can be scary for children. Even with the most comforting dentist in the world, the sounds and sensations can make your child feel on edge.
It’s best to bring your child to their first dental visit by the time they’re 1 year old. During their first visit, you’ll learn how to care for your child’s teeth. Your dentist may recommend you come back in 6 months, or you might wait another year until they turn 2 years old.
Either way, it’s essential to start dental care early — even though your child will lose their baby teeth. Regular dental visits keep their teeth and gums healthy, and helps solidify a lifelong habit of proper dental hygiene.
Plus, preventative dental care is always cheaper in the long run!
Whether it’s your child’s first appointment or they’ve been to the dentist before, it’s important to help your them feel comfortable in the dentist’s chair. From comforting conversations to safe sedation techniques, here are 5 ways to help your child cope with dental anxiety.
1. Talk About the Dentist at Home
Get in front of your child’s anxiety by talking it through at home. Help your child feel comfortable by explaining what will happen:
- Show them photos and videos of the dentist and explain what is going on.
- Talk about the dentist’s chair, the lights, and the tools. This will help your child know what to expect.
- Remind your child often that their dentist is going to take good care of them.
- Only provide the information they need to know right now. Hold off on scary conversations about drilling and cavities until your child needs those procedures.
- Remind your child why they need to go to the dentist — talk about the importance of good dental hygiene and reassure them this visit will keep them healthy.
If your child isn’t afraid of the dentist but you suggest that they might feel afraid, you could actually introduce that fear. So only have this conversation if your child is outwardly expressing anxiety about the dentist.
For extra support and exposure, read them books about going to the dentist. Here are 5 of our favorites >
2. Speak to Your Dentist for Kids
Our trained pediatric dentists are very familiar with children who are afraid of the dentist. Let us know if your child has anxiety or dentist phobia. We are more than happy to sit down with your child before the appointment to answer any questions.
You could even start with a pretend visit at our office, which is a great opportunity to point out the things you talked about at home with your child, including the chair, tools, and sounds they might overhear. Reinforce that their dentist is there to take care of them.
3. Help Your Child Feel Comfortable and Calm at the Dentist
Many children feel comforted by a stuffed animal, favorite book, or other object from home that reminds them that they’re safe. Consider bringing this to your appointment so your child can hold onto it during the visit and squeeze it if they get scared.
We also have plenty of cute and comforting toys at our offices for children to hold when they get here!
Your child may also want to listen to soothing music before and during the visit. Our dentists are okay with patients wearing headphones during the cleaning. It can mask sounds coming from the machines and scraping against your child’s teeth and can help calm them down.
Our offices also have a screen above each dental chair, so your child can watch a movie during their visit. It helps distract them and associate fun, positive things with their visit to the dentist.
Pro tip: For young children, we advise parents to choose a pediatric dentist appointment time that best fits your child’s activity or energy level.
4. Decide Whether Your Child Should Go in Alone
Having a parent present may be helpful to your child, or it might make things worse. Sometimes when a child falls, they only cry when their parent makes a fuss over the scrape. The same thing can be true of the dentist.
It can be difficult to see your child in pain or afraid. Ask yourself honestly if you think you’d be able to put on a brave face and help your child feel comfortable. If you think you might get emotional, that could intensify your child’s fear — it might mean it’s better to have them go into the cleaning alone while you stay in the waiting room.
If you’re not sure, ask your dental hygienist what they prefer or what works in their experience.
5. Consider Sedation for your Child’s Dentist Phobia
Some situations might require stronger reinforcements. You might consider sedation in these situations:
- Your child has special needs, especially if they’re very sensitive to touch
- Your child has extreme pediatric dentist anxiety that has prevented them from getting the care they need
- Your child has a dental emergency
- Your child requires a more extensive treatment such as a filling or crown
Children’s Choice offers safe sedation for children so they can keep their teeth and gums healthy no matter what.
Children’s Choice uses 2 kinds of sedation: laughing gas and general anesthesia.
Laughing gas is effective for children with mild dental anxiety. Laughing gas helps to relieve tension and make your child feel comfortable. It’s safe for children toddler-age and up.
Your child will likely stay awake during the procedure, but there’s a chance they may fall asleep. They will likely feel giggly and goofy as well.
If your child’s dentist phobia is more extreme, or if the situation calls for it, general anesthesia is another option.
General anesthesia is typically administered with a combination of an IV and inhaled gas. Your child is put to sleep completely, giving the dentist the opportunity to take care of their teeth without your child feeling any pain.
General anesthesia is safe for many patients, but our dentists will review your child’s medical history to determine if this is a viable option. During the procedure, a Children’s Choice staff member will monitor your child throughout the procedure.
Help Your Child Get Over their Fear of the Dentist
While your child may be the one experiencing the anxiety, it’s not easy to watch as a parent, either.
As a dentist for kids, we love working with children — and their parents! — and are happy to answer any questions you have. It’s our job to provide support for both of you.
If your child is experiencing extreme anxiety or has special needs, consider sedation to keep their teeth healthy.