Children like to copy their parents’ behavior. Sometimes it’s on purpose, like when they dress up in mom’s shoes or dad’s hats. Other times it’s unintentional, like learning to fear the dentist.
Research shows that parents pass along their fear of the dentist to their kids. We’re here to help break the cycle with tips and resources for you and your kids to feel more comfortable when visiting the dentist.
THE RESEARCH ON PARENT & CHILD DENTAL ANXIETY
According to a University of Washington study, 20 percent of children are afraid to go to the dentist. Another study of 7- to 12-year-olds concluded that parents with dental anxiety should be careful expressing anxiety about visiting the dentist around their children. The greater the anxiety is in one member of the family, the higher it will be for the rest of the family members.
As a parent, it’s important to be aware of how you address your anxieties to your children. When it comes to oral health, there’s added pressure. Parents with anxiety or fear of the dentist are also more likely to have children with dental problems like caries (cavities). Parents who have a fear of the dentist are less likely to consider taking their children for regular preventive dental visits. “These findings may help to devise interventions that will prevent or alleviate children’s fear of the dentist.”
It’s important to be aware of your fear of the dentist and its potential impact on your oral health and your child’s oral health. But what to do about it?
TIPS FOR OVERCOMING FEAR OF THE DENTIST
If you are making sure your children visit the dentist at least twice a year, you’re on track. If taking your child to the dentist is more difficult because of your personal dental fear or anxiety, consider your resources. Is there a relative or friend who can take the child to the dentist for you? There’s no shame in looking for help here — if your child gets to the dentist, you’ve done your part.
If you’re determined to face your fear and help your kids face it too, here are five things you can do to make your family’s visits more comfortable:
- Talk to the dental staff about what makes you anxious. The staff are familiar with dental anxiety and can do a variety of things to make your experience positive.
- Take your own comfort with you. Whether this includes your headphones and happy-place playlist or your child’s favorite stuffed companion, everyone can use a friend to ease their stress.
- Stay positive. Be the model you want for your kids because they’re taking their cues from you.
- The sooner (by age 1!) and more regularly your kids visit the dentist, the more comfortable they’ll be. And now is the best time for you to schedule your next appointment.
- Take care of your teeth at home. Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. Floss. Eat and drink less sugar. These simple daily habits will prevent tooth decay.
Overcoming fear of the dentist IS possible. We want you and your whole family to have healthy smiles. Regular dental check-ups can keep your mouth healthier, which means less work and less time in the chair when you go!
Visit the special Fear Free section of our blog for even more tips for adults and kids to take control of their dental experience.
*Updated August 2022