How to Overcome a Child’s Fear of the Dentist

A fear of the dentist is common for children. Whether it’s their first visit or a semi-annual struggle, dealing with a dentist visit for a child who is afraid is stressful for the whole family.

By taking steps to make the dentist a normal part of life and addressing specific day-of fears, you can help your child overcome a fear of the dentist.

Practice Good Oral Hygiene at Home

Practicing good oral hygiene at home allows you to instill the importance of taking care of your teeth and gives you a chance to openly discuss the topic on a regular basis. While you’re brushing your child’s teeth or they’re watching you brush your teeth, explain that we brush our teeth twice every day and visit our friend the dentist to keep our teeth strong and healthy.

By making this a regular topic in your house you can take away some of the “unknown” factor that could be driving the fear.

Make the Dentist Part of Everyday Life

To further diminish the fear of the unknown, work your family dentist into everyday life outside of teeth brushing time.

When talking about your dentist, use the names of the dental practice staff so they become familiar characters to your child. Every time you drive by the dentist’s office, wave hi to Dr. So-and-So and comment in a casual voice that, “We have to remember to visit Dr. So-and-So to get our teeth checkup soon to keep our teeth strong!” Have your children help draw holiday cards addressed to the dentist office. Buy a toy dentist kit and costume so your kids can dress up and become familiar and comfortable with the idea of the dentist.

These little steps make the dentist a causal, everyday thing, rather than a scary occurrence to be dreaded.

Use Positive Language

When talking about the dentist, be careful of the words you use. You don’t want to lie to your child, but using seemingly simple phrases like “pull,” “pinch,” “scrap,” or “x-ray” can be scary to a child. Instead, use age appropriate terms that the child is familiar with while avoiding words that might indicate pain – however slight.

For instance, simply say the dentist is going to “clean your teeth extra well.” Instead of mentioning x-rays, say the dentist will “take pictures of your teeth.”

Don’t Over Explain

Keep your explanation of what’s going to happen at the dentist focused on that particular appointment. Don’t mention cavities or other procedures if your child just has a cleaning that day. If they are having a cavity filled and that’s the source of the anxiety, explain the process as best you can using positive language. You keeping it simple and matter-of-fact will help silently communicate that this is a normal event and nothing to be afraid of.

If you’re not sure how to talk to your child about a procedure, ask the dentist office for advice. These offices, especially pediatric dentists, have plenty of experience with children and will be able to give you helpful suggestions and pointers.

Bring a Stuffed Animal to Hold

While the dentist’s office may have toys, videos, music, and stuffed animals for young patients, sometimes having a favorite piece of home can help ease stress. Ask your child if they’d like to take their favorite stuffed animal with them to keep them company.

Ask Them Why they’re Afraid

If your child has visited the dentist before, but they’re still afraid or anxious leading up to the next visit, help them verbalize their fears so you can better address the issue. Ask them why they’re afraid or why they don’t like the dentist. If they can’t articulate the fear, help them with gentle prompts (but be careful not to plant new fears). You can ask questions like:

  • Are you afraid because you don’t remember what happens at the dentist?
  • Do you want to talk to the dentist before climbing into the chair?
  • Would you be more comfortable listening to music while at the dentist?
  • Do you want to bring something from home with you?

These questions can help you figure out if the fear stems from the dentist being an unfamiliar experience or if a sensation during the exam (the sounds, the overhead lights, the masked dentist) is causing the fear.

Stick to a Regular Schedule

While it may be tempting to avoid the meltdown and skip the cleaning, oral health from a young age is extremely important. Commit to the recommended cleaning schedule for all members of your family and remind everyone that visiting the dentist is important to keeping our teeth and gums strong and healthy. Making the dentist a regular occurrence can also help ease the fear by making it part of the family’s familiar routine.

Posted In: Pediatric Dental Care