3 minute read

Dental anxiety affects people of all ages, including around 1 in 10 children, according to the Australian Research Centre for Population and Oral Health.

When children feel nervous about visiting the dentist, this can make them less cooperative with their dentist or could even persuade their parents to delay or skip their regular check-ups.

This can mean their dentist doesn’t have the chance to treat problems such as tooth decay at an early stage, which can increase their risk of developing cavities and needing fillings or other treatments.

You can help your child to get the important oral care they need by recognising how they feel and talking to kid’s dentists about the best ways to manage and overcome their fears.

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What causes dental anxiety in children?

10 ways to manage child dental anxiety

Like adults, children can feel nervous or scared about going to the dentist for many reasons. Understanding the possible cause or causes of your child’s dental anxiety is the first step to helping them manage it. These reasons may include:

Fear of pain

Kids may associate dental visits with pain, even if it’s just a routine check-up. This may be because they remember having jabs at other health clinics.

Fear of the unknown

Going to the dentist should be a regular occurrence, but first-time visitors won’t know exactly what to expect and it’s still a break from the everyday routine for older children.

Bad experiences

Children who have had dental injuries or needed more invasive treatments in the past may associate dental visits with discomfort.

Bad influences

Kids are sensitive to other people’s feelings, and if a parent, sibling or friend has dental anxiety or has had bad experiences, they may expect the same.

Related fears

Anxiety about the dentist may relate to a specific aspect of the experience – such as a fear of blood, needles, close contact with strangers or loss of control – or may be due to underlying anxiety issues.

10 ways to manage dental anxiety

Dental anxiety is generally easier to overcome in childhood than later on, when it may lead to people avoiding check-ups and being more likely to develop serious problems that need corrective treatment.

The following tips from dentists may not apply in all cases, but you could find that they help your child to feel comfortable and confident enough to make it through their next check-up or treatment and see that it wasn’t so bad after all.

1. Find a family dentist you trust

Find a family dentist you trust

Not all dentists are equally skilled at handling young or anxious patients. If you’re joining a new dental clinic, you should familiarise yourself with the team, the practice and the equipment and ask about anything you need to know to help you decide whether the clinic is right for you.

You can read the profiles of our dentists and other clinicians that belong to the team at Kelmscott Dental.

2. Be positive

Be positive about the dentist

Talk about dental care and healthy teeth in positive terms and try to make their visit something to look forward to. Reading books or watching videos about children and characters could help to normalise dental visits. Some video examples include:

  1. Peppa Pig – Dentist Trip
  2. Dora The Explorer – Check Up Day
  3. Sesame Street – Mr Handford Goes to the Dentist
  4. SpongeBob SquarePants – The Whole Tooth
  5. Dr Seuss – The Tooth Book

3. Explain what will happen

Rather than letting your child make up their own scary ideas, let them know what their visit will involve so they have an idea of what to expect. Their dentist can also explain each step of their check-up or treatment and demonstrate how equipment is used to help them mentally prepare and avoid surprises.

4. Establish signals

While kids should be encouraged to trust their dentist and make it through their appointment, they can retain their sense of control by alerting their dentist if they want to take a break or rinse their mouth. Since they won’t be able to talk at all times, their dentist can arrange a simple non-verbal signal beforehand.

5. Use distractions

Use distractions to avoid dental anxiety

Distractions such as watching screens, listening to music and occupying hands can be effective for people of all ages who want to take their mind off a dental procedure as it’s happening. Your dentist will let you know what the options are and what you can bring along if your child has a show or movie they love to watch.

6. Bring along a comfort toy

Bring a comfort toy along to the dentist

If the dental clinic is a new setting, kids may appreciate the comforting familiarity of favourite toys, books or other belongings. Family dental clinics also usually provide a selection of toys and gadgets for visitors to make use of, which could even be an incentive to visit!

7. Practice relaxation techniques

Older children dealing with anxiety may find it helpful to practice exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or systematic desensitisation before and during their dental visit. You can get more information about these techniques from your dentist or other healthcare provider or by watching instructional videos.

8. Book a morning appointment

Children may be more prone to give in to anxiety if they feel tired or hungry. Dentists recommend morning appointments when possible for young children, or you can choose another appropriate time based around their feeding and nap times.

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9. Keep regular check-ups

Kids are more likely to feel comfortable around their dentist and in the clinic setting when they visit on a regular basis, so you should follow your dentist’s recommendations for their regular check-up and clean. Accompanying other family members to their appointments can help to build more familiarity.

If you’re not sure when to bring your child in, read our blog on When should I start taking my child to the dentist?

10. Dental sedation

Dental sedation options for kids

For more severe cases of anxiety, your child’s dentist may discuss sedation options such as oral sedation or happy gas to help them feel calm, particularly if they are having a longer procedure.

Sedation or sleep dentistry is safe when provided by a qualified and experienced anaesthetist, but some sedatives can have side effects depending on the method used. Your dentist will make sure you are aware of these so you can decide whether to consent to sedation being used.

Talk to a kids’ dentist in Kelmscott and Armadale

Our dentists at Kelmscott Dental have plenty of experience helping kids, teenagers and adults to manage their anxiety and get the oral care they need.

To learn more about our sedation options and other ways we can help your child’s visit to pass smoothly, call our team today on (08) 9495 7999 or book an appointment online. We also serve all nearby Perth suburbs.

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  1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/dental-anxiety-and-phobia