Dental Phobia in Children: What to do

Dental fear in children can happen easily.

Alongside promoting 2 minutes of thorough brushing twice daily, taking a child to the dentist regularly from a very young age is necessary to instil brilliant dental hygiene habits in them but for some children, going to the dentist can seem like a scary thing.

A child’s fear of the dentist may develop from previous bad experiences at the dentist, feeling uncertain of what will happen, particularly if it is one of their first visits or they may be scared of feeling pain. It can even develop from seeing their parents react badly to receiving dental treatment. If they see their parent or someone they trust worrying or in pain during or after visiting the dentist, it can make them more apprehensive about their appointment or refuse to receive treatment at all.

Dental phobia in children is not uncommon.

Over a third of children in the UK are afraid attending dental appointments. A child’s fear of the dentist can be eased by promoting a trip to the dentist surgery as a positive experience by both the parents and the dentist. Let the child know that the dentist is there to help them look after their teeth to keep them extra clean and strong.

If a child has never been to the dentist before, or is receiving a new treatment that they have never had before, do not tell them too much about it as this leads to a lot of questions, wondering and even doubt, which can result in dental phobia and anxiety about their visit.

Do not insinuate that it could be painful or say that the visit ‘won’t hurt’. Also, don’t use any words that could have negative connotations. Mentioning anything to do with pain before or during a dentist visit can make a child very hesitant or even completely resistant. If you have promised the child that it won’t be sore and they do feel pain during an appointment, the child is likely to lose trust in both the parent and their dentist.

If a child is very young, it may be an idea to create a pretend situation. Where they play the patient and the parent plays the dentist.

With props such as mirrors and the child’s toothbrush, the parent can act out a basic check-up scenario. This is fun for the child. However, it also gives them and idea of what to expect when it’s time for the real thing.

Alternatively, there are many children’s books available that centre round the topic of visiting the dentist. These Usbourne First Experiences and Topsy and Tim go to the Dentist books are a great place to start!

Continuous reassurance and encouragement before, during and after your child’s visit is more effective than bribery. And will help them to feel more relaxed and confident about going to the dentist. It will soon become second nature and nothing for them to worry about. Before you know it, your child might not want you to come into the treatment room with them!

Dentists are trained to deal with anxious and nervous patients of all ages.

Some dental clinics are specifically equipped for patients who are scared of the dentist. In these surgeries, there are a number of relaxing and more gentle therapies available to allow the dentist to work quickly and effectively without inflicting pain upon the patients. You can find a surgery near you that specialises in patients with dental anxiety by clicking here and selecting ‘dental anxiety’ in the check list on the left.

Author – Leigh McLintock

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