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Family Dentistry: How To Deal With Dental Anxiety In Children

Even adults with no dental issues acknowledge that a visit to the dentist is not on their “Top Ten Fun Things To Do Today.” Unfortunately, too many adults also suffer from extreme “dental anxiety.” Defined as “fear or stress surrounding a dental visit,” dental anxiety can be so debilitating that even health-conscious adults put off going to the dentist unless it is an emergency

Ideally, a visit to the family dentist should be part of our bi-annual routine. Too often, we only visit the dentist if we have a problem with our teeth and gums, resulting in painful and unpleasant procedures. Taking your child to the family dentist twice a year from a very young age will prevent potential dental issues and assist in alleviating dental anxiety

What Causes Dental Anxiety

Although anxiety and fear are normal and usually manageable emotions, dental anxiety can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. It often starts in children at their first visit to the dentist and continues into adulthood. Here are some reasons that children develop dental anxiety.

Learned Behavior

Children who have never even been to the dentist pick up feelings of anxiety from others. Parents, siblings, and friends who have had a negative experience at the dentist can verbally or non-verbally transfer these negative feelings to a child.

A Previous Bad Experience

Children can develop dental anxiety issues if they have a negative experience that has not been properly addressed. Issues that could potentially result in dental anxiety include:

  • The procedure was painful. Even though dentists are extremely gentle with children, the procedure may have been more uncomfortable than the child anticipated.
  • Dental instruments were not properly explained before the procedure. Drills make noises that the child may not have expected, and the needle may have caused pain that the child did not anticipate.
  • The child may have a vivid memory of certain smells or tastes that they found particularly unpleasant.
  • They found breathing and communicating difficult. Even if the child could breathe through their nose, they may remember how uncomfortable it was to keep their mouth open and have hands and instruments in their mouth. They may also remember how difficult it was to communicate their discomfort/how powerless they felt.


If the child’s teeth are in a bad condition, or if they have been mocked about what their teeth look like, they may fear the dentist (an expert in the field) will scold or shame them.

How Parents Can Prevent Dental Anxiety

If fear of dentistry is not addressed or prevented in childhood, it can become a lifelong problem. Parents need to have an intentional and focused approach to dealing with dental anxiety. There are numerous ways that parents can promote a healthy relationship between children and the dentist

Regular Dental Check-ups

The American Dental Association recommends that children start going to the dentist as soon as they get their first tooth or by their first birthday. Although this may sound unnecessary, there are many good reasons for starting dental visits early including:

  • The dentist can get a baseline of the child’s oral health. This will enable any future issues to be detected early.
  • Starting dental visits early will teach children that these visits are a normal part of life and not to be feared.

Set The Right Example

Children are very observant. Keeping up with your regular dental appointments and even taking them along when possible will solidify the concept that regular dental visits are part of your routine

Choose The Right Dentist

Choose a dentist who is known for being good with children. Dentists who often work with children acknowledge that children may be afraid and know how to accommodate them. Look for dentists who:

  • Have experience working with children
  • Have friendly office staff and child-friendly office decor. Games and music in the waiting area often distract an anxious child

Do Not Surprise Them With Dental Appointments

Always communicate with your child about a dental appointment. To prepare them you can:

  • Ask if they have any questions. Answer questions in  an age-appropriate way, but always be truthful.
  • Play games or read stories about going to the dentist.
  • Speak about the impending visit positively.
  • Tell the dentist if your child is exceptionally anxious. They may prescribe a mild sedative to be administered an hour before the appointment.
  • Allow your child to take a comfort blanket or toy with them to the appointment.

Never Threaten Children With Dental Visits

Parents should never give children a reason to fear dentists. The child must never associate dental visits with punishment for poor oral hygiene or bad behavior. Instead of threatening your child with the dentist, reward good oral hygiene with positive reinforcement. Always use positive language and an excited voice when referring to dentists or dental appointments

Looking For A Child-Friendly Family Dentist In Boynton Beach? Erik’s Dental Group Is Here For You

Erik’s Dental Group is committed to dental excellence and offers a comprehensive dental service to Boynton Beach Residents. We understand that you may be anxious, so our warm, friendly staff and inviting premises are designed to make even the youngest patient feel at ease. To make an appointment, give us a call at 561-733-4004