Is Your Child Afraid of the Dentist?

It seems only natural that most children experience a mild fear of the dentist.  After all, having a strange person with weird glasses and noisy tools dig into your mouth…well it’s uncomfortable even for adults!  However, on a scale 1-10 for fear of the dentist my daughter was a 10.  Just knowing a dentist appointment was on the calendar produced anxiety and anticipation for what was to come.

Fear Kept Us from Routine Dental Work

My daughter’s fear caused a ripple effect of dental problems.  Crying and over-sensitivity to anything the dentist attempted to do resulted in more fear and more anxiety.  Though the dentist tried hard to work with her, eventually his frustration rubbed off on her.  We couldn’t get through a teeth cleaning or x-rays without frightful attempts to flee the dentist office.  My daughter would cling tightly to me and refuse to let go.

By 6 years of age, my daughter had serious dental problems that needed addressing.  The only solution was to put her under anesthesia.  That was a scary event for all of us.  We had to go to the hospital where she was put to sleep to fill cavities.  Seems a little extreme…at this point, I knew something had to change.

How Could I Get My Daughter to Feel More Comfortable?

It was time to address the anxiety and fear…but how?  My daughter’s ability to foresee the consequences of not going to the dentist paled in comparison to her fear.  Quite frankly, she didn’t care so long as she did’nt have to see the dentist.  How could I reason with her and make her understand the importance of routine dentist visits?  How could I disarm her fear of the dentist?

Here are the 7 Things I Did and They Worked!!

1. Take your child with you to your teeth cleaning appointments

I began to take my daughter to all my dentist appointments.  I wanted her to see me sitting in the chair with my mouth wide open.  It was so cute, she held my hand…thinking she was comforting me and giving me courage!  As I sat there, my dentist would chat with her about what she was doing, the importance of it and other fun chit chat…just getting to know each other.

“This method was brilliant. It’s about building a trusted friendship. You provided Hope with an opportunity to participate in multiple dental appointments where she could observe your reactions to dentistry and my trusted responses. My sweet little sidekick was becoming my good friend more and more with each of your six-month check-ups. Eventually, Hope and I had our own opportunity to build a dentist-patient relationship…. and by then we already had a solid foundation of friendship. After all… there is no need to have fear of a friend and a true friend will never hurt you or be untrustworthy.”  Our Dentist, Kristen Adams, DDS

2. Never force your child to sit in the dentist chair

The trust relationship between you and your child is more important than a teeth cleaning appointment.  If you force your fearful child…a child with extreme anxiety…this will damage your relationship.  For me, I wanted my daughter to know she could trust me and that her feelings are important and valid.  Instead of forcing her, I worked on other tactics like building a relationship with the dentist and discussing the fears.

3. Never let a dentist bully you or your child

This can be difficult if your a non-confrontational person like me.  Naturally a dentist is an expert and we want to trust them, but remember he/she is not the parent of your child.  The dentist, with good intentions, can cause more damage and distrust.

4. Find a dentist that understands fear and anxiety

This is key.  Not all dentists are equipped to deal with kids and their fear/anxiety.  It is important to seek and find a dentist who has a tender heart towards these kids.  The right dentist will help ease the anxiety not add to it.

“I never ever force a child to complete an appointment. I try to build trusting friendships with my little patient pals.  And if that gets off to a rocky start… I try to remind them how special and lucky they are to have parents and a dental team that love them and provide them access to care.”  Kristen Adams, DDS

5. Find a dentist that cares about the entire person

For us, this made all the difference.  My daughter needed to feel cared for and cared about.  For her anxiety level to go down, she needed a trusted relationship with her dentist.  After taking my daughter to my dentist appointments, my daughter began to develop a relationship with my dentist.  It was a beautiful thing that happened naturally and eventually my dentist became her dentist too!  My mistake was thinking we needed a dentist that specialized in kids…but for us, that wasn’t the answer.

6. Talk to your child about his/her fear

Have a continuing conversation with your child about their fears.  Not just about the dentist but in general.  My daughter struggles with fear and anxiety in other areas too.  We discuss courage, bravery and acceptance that some things in life are uncomfortable but that doesn’t mean they are not necessary.

7. Read books about the dentist and fear/anxiety:

The more you can educate your child, the better prepared they will feel.  Ask your dentist for resources and if he/she can participate in educating your child.  Here is a link to multiple book options:  Going to the Dentist.

16 Months and Her Fear/Anxiety is at a Normal Level

As I write this, my daughter has had 3 routine teeth cleaning appointments with no tears, no fear and very low anxiety.  I don’t expect her to be completely free of anxiety…after all it is awkward for everyone.  But learning to deal with her fears and anxiety is a life lesson that will equip her for all the other stressful situations in the future.

“Hope has done amazing in her past few visits! Each time she giggles a little bit more and is able to add on another level of confidence in herself and I. In the most recent visit specifically… I saw a previously fearful and anxiety ridden sweetheart bloom into a brave young lady who Chickened-IN so hard!”  Kristen Adams, DDS

In my experience, it is not healthy to force a child into that which they are afraid of.  However, there are alternatives to being forced…it requires patience, time and creativity.  It will require a plan.  The 7 steps above worked for us and I hope you find a few gold nuggets that will help you too!

The latest standard in dentistry is for children to visit the dentist by their first birthday or eruption of their first tooth—whichever occurs first. Your first dental visit usually occurred around kindergarten when we were kids. However, the dental community has discovered that early intervention allows the child/patient the opportunity to build a trusting relationship with their dental provider. This way they can learn the smells, sounds and voices in the office as they grow and develop. Gone are the days where right before kindergarten you meet a stranger “the dentist” (insert sounds of doom) who proceeds to tell you what a bad job you’re doing and you have six cavities.  Kristen Adams, DDS