Overcoming Dentist Appointment Anxiety: Kids Edition

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
August 21, 2018

Small boy holding stuffed animals

Even as an adult, a trip to the dentist can cause some anxiety. But, for kids, it could be downright frightening. So what can you do to ease your child’s fears when it’s time to have their teeth checked or when a cavity needs to be filled?  

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It

Communication can be a first step in helping your son or daughter feel more relaxed about going to the dentist.

You could start by letting your child know that you’ve set up a dentist appointment for them. Then, explain why it’s necessary to see the dentist regularly. Your message could also include the fact that everyone goes to the dentist, including you, and it really isn’t anything to fear.

It’s best to keep your attitude towards the dentist as positive as possible, and clarify that the dentist is there to help keep everyone’s smile looking beautiful. Avoid the use of words like “pain,” “shot,” or “hurt.” Keep it lighthearted!

By simply allowing your kid to talk to you about their fears, and by giving straightforward answers to any questions they have, you might find that their anxiety is reduced.

Tip: If your child is asking a lot of questions about dental procedures that seem scary, it might not be a good idea to dive into too many details. Instead, leave all of that to your dentist, who has experience with explaining things to kids in a way that could help them calm down. You could even let your dentist know in advance that your child has anxiety so that steps can be taken to make the experience as non-threatening as possible.  

Let’s Play Pretend!

In addition to talking to your kid about an upcoming trip to the dentist, you could even move through a pretend exam at home. Have your child recline in a comfortable chair to act as the patient, while you pretend to be the dentist. Fun!

Using imagination and playtime can be a good way to prepare for what to expect in a real dentist’s chair. You might start by looking at your kid’s teeth and counting them, and you could even use a mirror so that your child can see what’s happening.

Tip: During your pretend dental appointment, avoid using a dental drill or making drilling sounds. No one likes that!

Read a Book Together

There are many children’s books written with the intention of reducing a little one’s fears of going to the dentist. Purchasing one or more of these books and reading them with your kid can be another helpful step.

Here are some options to get you started:

  • What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist by Heidi Murkoff
  • Dora the Explorer's Show Me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist
  • SpongeBob SquarePants’ Behold No Cavities! A Visit to the Dentist
  • Going to the Dentist by Anne Civardi

Take a Favorite Toy to the Appointment

If your child is very young, having a favorite toy to hold might be extremely comforting while their mouth is being examined.

A toy may even serve as a calming distraction while you’re in the waiting room. We all know how sitting for a long time before your appointment can lead to anxiety and frustration!

Stick with a Pediatric Dentist

A pediatric dentist’s office will be quite different from one that’s designed for adults. It might be less intimidating, especially if it’s filled with distracting toys and games, TV shows, and fun pictures on the walls.

Although every great dentist will know how to make a child feel comfortable and secure during an exam or a procedure, the staff at a pediatric dentist’s office might have even more tricks up their sleeve to make your kid giggle.

Fun fact: A study found that the simple act of looking at positive photos, such as those of a stuffed animal in a dental chair, or kids smiling while being examined, could help reduce anticipatory anxiety while in the waiting room.

It’s Never Too Early to Learn Deep Breathing

What are some of the techniques that you use to calm down when your anxiety is kicking in? If your answer includes deep breathing, why not share that technique with your kid?

A few minutes of simple deep breathing could help relax both body and mind, and you can practice this with your child before the actual appointment. Then, once your child is in the waiting room and in the dentist’s chair, you can evoke this deep breathing exercise again. Ahh…much better!

Get Ready: Your Dentist Might Recommend Sedation

If your kid’s anxiety is super high and nothing seems to be helping, your dentist might recommend a form of sedation. An option for minimal sedation is laughing gas, which is also referred to as conscious sedation.

What’s great about laughing gas is that it calms you down but you’re still able to respond to stimuli, and you can also breathe on your own. For these reasons, it’s considered a safe choice for children who just need a little extra help relaxing.

Start ‘Em Young

Did you know that experts recommend taking your baby to the dentist for the first time no later than their first birthday?

The sooner your child experiences a dental appointment, the quicker they can realize that it’s not so bad after all. In fact, seeing the dentist could become just another routine that your kid becomes used to, especially if you have family dental insurance and you schedule appointments for cleanings and checkups throughout the year.

No Need for Anxiety!

Anxiety about a dental appointment? Hey, we’ve all been there! And it’s totally normal for kids who are unsure of what to expect to feel overwhelmed. It might take a bit of time and effort, but it’ll be worth it to ensure your child won’t be so scared when it’s time to see the dentist—which means you’ll be able to relax, too! 


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