7 Key Tips for Helping a Child Who is Scared of the Dentist

Here's how to ease your child into visiting the dentist for a much-needed check-up.

The development of healthy teeth and gums in children is essential to the development of their speech and the health of adult teeth in later life.

But all-too-often, parents delay dental check-ups in order to avoid the drama around a dentist visit.

Understandably, a child may be fearful of the dentist for a number of reasons. But this is no reason to jeopardize their oral health. Here’s how to ease your child into visiting the dentist for a much-needed check-up.

How to Ease a Fearful Child Into Visiting the Dentist

Your child is not over-reacting when it comes time to visit the dentist. If adults have anxiety about dental check-ups, imagine how a child feels?

The environment is unfamiliar, the dental chair looks ominous, and not-to-mention the sharp and shiny dental tools!

If you’re looking to find pediatric dentist tips that’ll help to calm your child’s nerves, you’ll find them right here:

1. Start Them Off at a Young Age

A pediatric dentist will generally recommend that a child have their first dental checkup no later than their first birthday.

Starting your child off at a young age will help them grow accustomed to the environment and procedure during a checkup. The first dental checkups are usually quick and more informational than anything.

A dentist will give you feedback on habits such as thumb-sucking and the use of pacifiers and how this affects your child’s teeth. They will also give a rough idea of how teeth should be growing and how to keep them cavity-free.

By starting your child off young, they will already understand the routine of visiting the dentist and be more comfortable with it by their toddler years.

2. Opt for a Pediatric Dentist

A pediatric dentist specializes in treating very young children – from babies to toddlers, to teens. This means that they have experience in dealing with small children and their fears and anxiety during dental checkups.

A pediatric dentist is different from a regular dentist in that they must complete an additional three years of training after dental school. During this time, they not only study children’s oral health but early child development and psychology too.

This means a pediatric dentist is able to better relate with a child and effectively communicate in order to keep them calm. They also use specialized techniques in order to create a positive, encouraging experience.

3. Reinforce the Importance of Oral Health

As your child reaches the age of comprehension, it’s important to regularly discuss and explain the importance of good oral health.

Tell them why it’s important to take care of your smile, explain the role of teeth and gums and how important they are for your overall health. Explain the role of a dentist and how they help in keeping teeth healthy.

In the lead up to a dental visit, try not to tell your child about the visit too far in advance. This only gives them a chance to dream-up scary scenarios before the dental checkup. Instead, tell them just a few days before the visit, and try not to go into too much detail. Use a brief explanation of what to expect and use words they can fully comprehend. Remember to avoid terms such as ”pain”; ”shot”; ”needles” etc.

4. Lead by Example

Your child is a direct example of your own behavior as a parent. If you’re also not a fan of the dentist, it’s important to not let it show. Don’t ever talk about your own fear or anxiety about dental checkups in front of your child, as this will instill a sense of fear in them too.

Instead, lead by example as much as you can. Try to focus on the positives of a dental checkup and talk about your dental visit in an upbeat way. Remember to appear relaxed as you wait in the dental office for your checkup – children are very intuitive and will pick up on nervous or anxious energy.

5. Play Pretend

Another great way to create a positive atmosphere around visiting the dentist is to play a game of pretend with your child. This is a simple way of addressing their fears and putting their mind at ease in terms of what to expect.

Use similar props during your pretend dental visit. Use an old toothbrush and have them sit in a chair as you pretend to brush and floss their teeth. Then, it’s important to let them play the role of dentist, too.

In essence, this is a chance to give your child a taste of what to expect during a dental visit in an environment that is comfortable and safe.

6. Educate Your Child with Books and Videos

Take it upon yourself to teach your child the importance of oral health and why we need to visit the dentist. There are a plethora of child-friendly books and videos out there to help you do just that.

A few great books on the topic include:

  • Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer
  • What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist by Laura Rader
  • Dentist Trip (Peppa Pig) by Scholastic
  • Curious George Visits the Dentist by H.A. Rey

Some of these books do mention the procedure of receiving a filling. If your child is not quite there yet and any mention of this may scare them, then skip over these parts. Alternatively, there is a huge range of videos on YouTube that breakdown the purpose of a dentist visit to encourage and placate young children.

7. Schedule the Dental Visit Wisely

You know your child best, but it’s important to bear in mind that angst and anxiety in children can only be compounded by certain factors. Some of these may include being tired, hungry, or overstimulated.

That’s why you should schedule a dental appointment wisely- i.e. at the right time of day so that your child is at their most amiable. A good time would be right after a nap in the morning, a good breakfast or after a full night’s sleep.

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If you have a fearful child who dreads every single dentist visit, we hope the above advice was of some help!

Looking for more helpful advice on parenting, family life or relationships? Be sure to check out the other blogs on Cyber Parent.

  1. Afton Jackson says

    My youngest son is about to head to start heading to the dentist for his regular checkups and I want to make sure it goes smoothly. I loved your suggestion of leading by example because my nephews were also once scared of the dentist before my brother took them to their first trips and they’ve told stories about how it wasn’t as bad as they thought, so if I can get them to help my son out this would be a great way to start. Once we convince my son to see his dentist, I’ll be sure to continue the tips you stated in your article. Thank you!

    1. CyberParent says

      We’re glad you found it useful. The dentist office can be a scary place for anyone, especially children!

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