- Fear of the dentist: how to prevent it
- Lead by example
- Fear of pain or anaesthesia?
- 5 practical tips
A fear of the dentist is pretty common among both children and adolescents. Children are afraid of many things, of course: scared of failing, scared of going to school, maybe even scared of maths (which, to be honest, is understandable). But the fear of going to the dentist is a little different. A fear of the dentist can often trigger very strong reactions, from crying to tantrums, and in severe cases, panic attacks.
As with all fears, your support is essential when it comes to helping your child overcome their fear of the dentist. Keep on reading to find out how to tackle fear of the dentist and discover some practical tips to help your child overcome it.
Fear of the dentist: how to prevent it
Prevention is better than cure, as we all know. And this also applies to the fear of the dentist. Getting your child used to regular - and relaxed - visits to the dentist from an early age is the best way to prevent them developing a fear. Your child will get to know the waiting room, the reclining chair, the dentist's instruments, which will become familiar and reassuring. And the dentist will be a doctor they can trust.
With regular check-ups, your child will also learn that going to the dentist does not necessarily mean having to go through a scary or painful procedure. More often than not the dentist will say "everything’ss fine, see you in 6 months". 👍 Nothing to be afraid of!
Lead by example
Fear of the dentist can easily be passed on from parents to children. Your example, therefore, is super important. Show a calm attitude when you have to go to the dentist. You could even ask your child to accompany you, so that they can see there is nothing to be afraid of.
It’s also a good idea to explain the importance of regular visits to the dentist. If your child is young, you can say that the dentist is a doctor who makes your teeth strong like a lion. While with a teenager, you can point out the importance of healthy teeth for having a beautiful smile. 😁
Be careful, however, with the words you use: avoid scary words like pain, puncture, syringe, drill, extraction or blood and always talk about the dentist in positive terms. For example, it's far better to say "we're going to the dentist to make sure your teeth are healthy and beautiful" rather than "if you don't go to the dentist all your teeth will decay and you'll have to have fillings". Something neither adult or child wants to hear…
Fear of pain or anaesthesia?
While talking to your child about their fears is important, listening is even more important. Just like when your child doesn't want to go to school, you need to understand what exactly your child is afraid of when it comes to trips to the dentist.
Having a fear of the dentist could actually refer to a whole range of different fears. Is your child afraid of feeling pain? Or are they scared of being injected with a needle? If your child is very young, they may simply be afraid of being alone in the dentist's room without you. Or maybe they were frightened by a horrifying story about the dentist they heard from a friend?
Whatever it is, do not minimise your child's fear. Respect it and try to reassure them. Consider that older children may find it difficult to admit that they are afraid of the dentist if they think this is a babyish fear to have. Explain that being afraid of the dentist is normal, try to tell them how the visit will go and remind them that they can ask the dentist any questions they want.
How to overcome a fear of the dentist: 5 practical tips
Here are our practical tips to help children and young people overcome their fear of the dentist. And what to do if the fear doesn't go away. ✅
1. Choose the right dentist
To overcome this fear, the dentist must become a person your child trusts. Which is why it’s so important to find the right one. The dentist who has been treating you for years might be perfect for you, but may not necessarily be the right one for your child. Paediatric dentistry has developed a lot in recent years and dentists for children and young people have specific training in dealing with children.
2. Start with an introductory visit
If your child is afraid of the dentist and hasn't been for a long time, it's best to start small. Book a visit just to get to know the dentist, have a check-up and maybe a teeth cleaning session. It’s better to postpone further treatment until your child is more familiar with the environment.
Encourage your child to talk about their fears with the dentist during the first visit. This will help your child feel both listened to and understood.
3. Plan ahead
Book the visit a few days in advance. 🦷 Coming home and announcing to a child who’s afraid of the dentist: "You have a dentist appointment tomorrow" can make their anxiety worse. Let your child have time to prepare for the appointment, express their fears and talk about them with you.
4. Find the right ‘anti-anxiety’ tool
There are little things you can do to reduce your child’s anxiety during a dentist appointment: bring their favourite toy along, let them listen to music with earphones or tell them to work out simple maths sums in their head as a distraction.
5. After the dentist, do something fun
After the visit, plan an activity that your child will enjoy. Go to the park, go shopping or treat them to their favourite snack.😍 This can become a small ritual that will help them connect a trip to the dentist with something enjoyable.
What if nothing works? In some cases, fear of the dentist can be a real phobia (dentophobia) recognised as a disease by the WHO. In these cases, the best thing is to consult a dentist specialised in treating phobic patients, who will be able to help you and your child deal with the problem. Good luck!