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Easing your child's fear of the dentist

Going to the dentist for regular check-ups should be a normal part of life for a child. However, many children get nervous at the dentist's surgery, or are scared of the strange surroundings, the dentist and their equipment.

Parents and dentists can help make a child's first dental appointment a positive experience.

Children pick up signals from their mums and dads, and a parent's dental worries can be transferred to the child.

If you are worried about going to the dentist yourself, try to keep this from the child and don't discuss dental concerns in front of the child.

Parent's role in the dental visit

To help the dental visit go more smoothly:

  • Tell your child about the visits but limit the amount of details given. Answer any questions with simple, to-the-point answers. Let the dentist answer more complex or detailed questions. Dentists are trained to describe things to children in a non-threatening way and in easy to understand language.
  • Don't tell your child that something will hurt or be painful.
  • Don't tell your child about an unpleasant dental experience that you've had.
  • Stress to your child how important it is to maintain healthy teeth and gums and that the dentist is a friendly doctor whose job it is to help do this.
  • Don't promise a reward for going to the dentist.

It is perfectly normal for children to be fearful, some are afraid of being separated from their parents; others are afraid of the unknown; others are afraid of being injured. A dentist who treats children will know how to cope with your child's fears and anxiety and put them at ease.

Dentist's role

Children's fears can be expressed in a number of ways. Some children may cry; others may throw temper tantrums. Dentists often will use techniques to ease children's fears, including some of the following:

  • The dentist should talk in a friendly voice that could become firmer if necessary.
  • Simple words should be used to describe the procedure. Sometimes dentists will demonstrate the procedure on a doll or another person before performing the procedure on the child.
  • Many times dentists will tell stories or engage the child in conversation as a means of drawing attention away from the procedure.
  • Dentists often will use body language, such as a simple smile or frown, to reinforce positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. Praise and compliments should be given to reinforce good behaviour.
  • The dentist may use sedation to help the child relax and be more comfortable, if necessary. The two most common types of sedation that might be used in children are nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") or an oral sedative.

If your dentist does not take steps to ease your child's fears, consider finding another dentist. It is important that your child has a positive experience at the dentist during their early years so that he or she does not develop an ongoing fear of oral healthcare providers.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 17, 2016

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