Kids’ dental phobia: 6 ways to support a child scared of the dentist
You did your research. You feel confident you’ve found the best pediatric dentist. You are ready to pick up the phone and schedule a dental visit but then immediately you put down the phone because you have a child scared of the dentist, and you have a few butterflies of doubt.
Will your little one refuse to open their mouth? Chew on the hygienist's fingers? Yell? Run and hide? What sort of voodoo happens at Growing Grins that enables their experienced kids’ dentist team to complete a dentistry treatment on a tiny kiddo with big feelings who is known to get upset when they get the red crayon after they’ve asked for the RED CRAYON?!
Scheduling your child to go to the dentist can bring on so many emotions for parents. It’s normal to wonder what your kid’s experience will be, especially when many of us come from a place of holding dental phobias ourselves.
This article shares a few strategies you can use to create a foundation for anxiety-free visits to your child’s pediatric dentist.
1. Kids will follow your example, not your advice
The first step is to take stock of the fears and worries you hold for dental care. Our children watch and listen to us all the time.
LOL, obviously! That’s why we all escape by going into the bathroom for a few blissful moments all to ourselves. I mean, until the knocking on the door starts. Let’s get back on track, shall we?
The words we use when talking about going to the dentist—and the tone we use—can reliably help shape how our children will view their visits before they ever step foot in a pediatric dental office.
2. Call in Daniel Tiger for backup (or Peppa Pig if you’re in a pinch)
Allowing your little one to watch a video of their favorite character at a dental appointment is helpful when you have a child scared of the dentist.
It allows them to understand the process in a comforting format with age-appropriate characters that they are used to seeing in their day-to-day life.
When you set up your child for success by telling them how awesome this appointment is going to be, reinforce your words by having them see their favorite character navigate a dental visit.
Take note of the words that the characters use during the episode. There are so many child-friendly ways to describe a kids’ dentist appointment. The writers of these children’s shows do a great job incorporating these phrases into the dialogue. Dental suction tools become “silly straws,” and professional toothbrushes that “clean away the sugar bugs.”
3. Teddy bears as dental learning tools
There is extensive research in the behavior management technique known as “tell, show, do.” This effectively reduces fears in all age groups across most situations where patients feel uncomfortable or unsure about what to expect.
For a child scared of the dentist, use dramatic play to reinforce the information they’ve already received about what a dental visit might look like.
Have your child practice with a well-loved stuffed animal, or perhaps have them pick out the one they believe has the stinkiest breath. Then have your little one pretend they’re the dentist who needs to “clean and count” that stuffed animal’s teeth.
Comment on how shiny they are making the stuffed animal’s teeth and tell them how they are helping their stuffed animal stay healthy by checking to make sure there are no sugar bugs.
The more oral health becomes familiar to your child scared of the dentist, the more successful—and less stressful–their pediatric dental visits will be.
4. Appointment time matters
Kids only have so much in the tank for the day, especially our littlest patients. That’s why it is best to schedule a child scared of the dentist earlier in the morning.
There is a really sweet spot in the early to late morning when dental visits are more successful for preschool and young school-aged children. Younger children have so much more energy to use for a dental appointment earlier in the day compared to an afternoon.
Also, late-afternoon appointments are typically filled with patients coming to the dentist for after-school appointments. This is a louder and more boisterous time in any pediatric dental office.
The noise and older kids and teens in the office at this time may be overwhelming for a child scared of the dentist. As your little one gets older and more familiar with oral care and dental visits, their appointment may be scheduled at any time and likely be successful.
5. Choose kid-friendly atmospheres (or, why pick a pediatric dentist over a general dentist)
Choosing a pediatric dentist versus a general dentist not only means you’ve chosen specialty care (and providers who have loads more experience working with kids) but also an environment that doesn’t have to pretend it’s for adults.
When your child scared of the dentist walks into the office for a pediatric dental visit, they will immediately feel more comfortable and like they are in a space designed with them in mind—because it is!
Bright, colorful walls and designs in the waiting room with room for your child to move around is a great start. There will be scaled to size dental equipment and chairs designed to fit a child rather than an adult chair adapted temporarily.
Also, the conversation in the air will all be child-appropriate in their dental speak. If a pediatric dental office were a scented candle, it would smell like glitter, rainbows, and unicorns (and sing Disney songs when you lit it).
6. Give lots of positive reinforcement
You’ve made it, and your child scared of the dentist is finally at the office. One of two scenarios is about to go down.
Either all the preparation we’ve walked you through has prepared your little one, and they’ve done fantastic! We’ve counted and sparkled their choppers, put on their teeth vitamins (fluoride therapy), helped them choose a new toothbrush, and now they are asking to come back soon. Fantastic!
Or, maybe this is decidedly NOT how your child is reacting. Your child scared at the dentist is still anxious and fearful. That’s completely normal and okay, too!
Some kids respond differently to the experience of a dental visit finally happening, and they may need a detour from the regularly planned appointment. But that is the beauty of a pediatric dentist and pediatric dental office.
You’re in a space where adaptations can be made at all levels. However, the most key indicator of a successful visit is positive reinforcement. Every member of our team will go out of their way to ensure that your child is successful at something during the visit.
Continued positive support with your child scared of the dentist lays the foundation for all future dental visits. After all, the more familiar something becomes, the less scary it is.
Schedule a fear-free pediatric dental appointment
Every child scared of the dentist deserves to have as relaxing an experience as is possible during a dental visit. Choose a pediatric dentist experienced in treating kids in a way that reduces their dread or helps them overcome it all together.
Set your child up for a positive experience at the dentist
Growing Grins Pediatric Dentistry, a top-rated dentist for kids with dental phobia in central Indiana, is now accepting new patients. We invite you and your child to come in and see our kids’ dentist team for a fear-free visit.
Our team can’t wait to help your child’s small smile bloom.
Call our office at 317-896-9600 to book an appointment, or use our online form to set up a visit and help us get to know your child.
Request an appointment
We look forward to doing our part in making the dental experience fun and anxiety free-both for you and your child!