How to Help a Child Who is Fearful of the Dentist

A parent asked this question on our Facebook page. If anyone has any questions or suggestions for future blog posts, please post them on our page or in the comments section, and I will be happy to answer them!

anxious childTypically a child who is fearful of the dentist will have had a difficult situation at another dentist’s office or at a pediatrician’s office and is scared of anyone dressed in scrubs or medical clothing. Sometimes the fear is transmitted from a parent or relative who had a bad experience at the dentist. These relatives (often siblings) will say things to the child like “they’re going to pull out a huge needle and jab it into your gums!”  Clearly this is the wrong message to send to a child who has never been before or one who is about to get some fillings done. Parents can instead try to prepare their child in a positive way while avoiding the scary things. Say things like “we like the dentist because he / she keeps your teeth healthy” or “you’re going to have a great time because you can watch Frozen while they sing songs to you and fix your teeth!” (Which is true at our office!) You can also show your child our virtual tour on our website so they can see the office before arriving. It’s generally helpful to be vague and allow us to prepare your child for the specific procedure at our office. We allow them to touch the instruments, feel the water and the air, and hear the noises in a non-threatening way while explaining what we are going to do at an age-appropriate level.

Please do not mention anything about “shots”, “drills”, “pulling or yanking teeth” or anything “hurting.” Most of the time (probably 90%), the kids don’t even know they get a teeny tiny injection because we have lots of techniques to help them through the appointment. Many times we take out their sick tooth, and they don’t even know! So prepare them in a way that portrays dentists and dentistry in a positive light, and let us work through the appointment. Although a lot of parents have had difficult experiences at the dentist themselves, and it can be hard to not tell your child about it, avoid discussing your anxiety or past bad experiences. Children can sense a parent’s anxiety. Parents are welcome to accompany children for any visit, but if the parent feels more comfortable waiting in the lobby, that is totally fine too. Also avoid discussing details of a prior difficult experience the child has had at another office. We would be happy to discuss any prior difficulties that you think we need to know about in an area away from the child.

If you have any questions about this post or any others, please call our office at 205-419-7444.

Richard Baxter, DMD, MS