Fears of the dentist are not that uncommon. Different studies have found 1 in 10 children to have anxiety prior to their dental visit. In fact, many adults and teens are also afraid of the dentist. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most obvious reason is that most people associate medical visits with the potential for pain. Fear of the dentist ranges from child to child, while some kids may get a little nervous before they go to the dentist, others might have a full tantrum over it. Here are some ways dentists and parents can address these fears and help children grow past them.
Pediatric dentists and family dentists are more attuned to children’s anxiety. Adult medical facilities tend to be a more sterile and foreboding environment. A dental office that specializes in family care will usually work harder to make sure the environment is fun and comforting, and more importantly, the staff will know how to interact with your kids.
Many psychologists have published studies about the “fear of the unknown”. The less we know about something the more our mind forms anxiety around it. As parents, talk to your children about the dentist. Many kids even play dentist or play doctor to get more acquainted with the doctor-patient relationship. At the dentist, we find it helps to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it to some children. Understanding that every procedure is effectively cleaning teeth and protecting them can help children feel more confident during their dental visits.
Children get used to the idea of rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior. Unfortunately, this leads to some kids associating a filling with it being some sort of punishment for not taking care of their teeth. While it is important to understand the relationship between oral care and cavities, it is equally important to understand that it’s ok to have a cavity. We recommend teaching kids that brushing and flossing decrease the risk of a cavity. Similarly, decreasing foods/beverages that are sugary and acidic like soda or candy can also decrease that risk. That being said, a dental filling is not a punishment, it is a procedure that can keep our teeth healthy. Children should not be ashamed of having one. In fact, some kids with worse oral habits might not develop cavities while some kids with better oral habits do. Brushing and flossing is the best way to prevent cavities, but everyone’s teeth are different, so children should not see fillings as anything other than a helpful procedure to protect their teeth.
It is important to be careful how you use positive reinforcement, but it can be helpful. Any little thing that can make the dental visit more enjoyable is a good place to start. This is why dentists give children dental stickers and other goodies to help celebrate good oral health. But it is important to avoid bribery. Bribing your child is, in a sense, admitting that a dentist is a bad place that requires bribery to make it better.
One common mistake some parents make is lying to their children. Whether it is telling them that they are going to a different location only to end up at the dentist, or a similar lie, this can be damaging to their trust. Kids should know that they are going to the dentist before they go so they don’t feel tricked.
At All Star Dental, we make it a priority to make sure that children feel comfortable when they visit our dental offices. Learn more about our dental offices and make an appointment by clicking here.