Regular dental check-ups are crucial in preventing cavities and other dental problems in kids. However, if your children grapple with dental anxiety, getting them to the dentist might seem like an impossible task.
If this sounds familiar, we can help! Learn ways to help to alleviate their dental fears and ensure good oral and overall health now and in the future.
Tips to ease dental anxiety with your kids
Fear of the dentist is not uncommon in children. Helping them overcome their fears is an important part of ensuring good oral health for their entire lives.
Try some or all of these tips to help them feel more comfortable at their next dental appointment:
- Start taking your kids to the dentist early. The American Dental Association recommends children visit the dentist within six months of their first tooth or by age one. Early visits give kids a chance to become familiar with the dentist and can help reduce dental anxiety down the road.
- Lead by example. If you’re nervous about the dentist, your kids might pick up on it and adopt the same attitude. According to a study in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry, adults can unintentionally transfer their dental anxiety or fears to family members. Make a conscious effort to demonstrate a positive attitude toward the dentist while articulating the value of regular visits. By modeling relaxed behavior, you can show your kids that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
- Read books that explain the dentist experience. Reshape attitudes with the power of the page. Pick up library books that explain dental appointments in kid-friendly language. Popular options include Curious George Visits the Dentist by H.A. Rey, Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer, and Open Wide: School Tooth Inside by Laurie Keller. To build even more positive associations with the dentist, try bringing their favorite toy or game to appointments.
- Make your child comfortable with their dentist and staff. Stop by the dental office beforehand so your kids learn what to expect in a lower-pressure situation. Introducing them to the team without the stakes of an actual appointment can help them feel more comfortable in the environment and alleviate dental anxiety.
- Practice beforehand. Try running through a mock dental visit in your own home to remove any confusion they might have about what happens in the dentist’s chair. Pretend to clean your child’s teeth while explaining how visiting the dentist helps keep their smiles healthy.
- Use relaxation techniques. If you’ve tried everything and your kids still get the heebie-jeebies in the dental chair, don’t fear! Try calming them down with some simple relaxation exercises, including instructing your child to inhale and exhale slowly and steadily. You can also try a technique where they tense different muscle groups as tight as they can, then release.
- Keep up with dental services: Once you bring your child in for their first dental check-up, it’s important to have them seen every six months thereafter. A study from the research journal Children looked at the most effective ways to reduce dental anxiety in children and found that the “frequency of dental experiences seems to act as a positive factor in reducing children’s anxiety. Specifically, our study shows a significant difference when check-ups are performed every 6 months or every year.”
Dental anxiety in children can be helped
A positive, comfortable relationship with your dentist or your child’s dentist is extremely important in easing dental anxiety. Anxiety at any age can be alleviated when you’re comfortable with those who are taking care of your teeth.
For more tips on beating dental anxiety, check out “Tips to Help Someone with Dental Anxiety.”
*Updated February 2024