Kusp Pediatric Dentistry

Strategies for Managing Your Child's Dental Anxiety:
A Parent's Guide

Many of us have been there, the dreaded dental appointment! That feeling of angst and yucky anticipation of seeing your dentist. Dental anxiety is unfortunately very common and in particular a concern amongst parents of young children. As a parent, it’s important no to mix our own feelings about dentistry with what our children may be feeling (dentistry has changed quite a bit since many of us were children!).  However, if you do have an anxious kiddo – understanding how to help your child cope with anxiety surrounding dental appointments is going to be a critical part of your child’s experience with their dentist. As with everything child related, every child is different and some approaches the work for one child may not work for another but, by implementing evidence-based strategies, you can support your child in developing a positive attitude towards dental care. My goal is to explore some scientifically supported approaches and tips to effectively manage your child’s dental anxiety and feeling good about their experiences in our offices!

One thing that may seem obvious but is extremely effective is simply Acknowledging and Validating Your Child’s Feelings: Popular parenting books such as “The Whole Brain Child” by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryce Payne explain the importance of the “Name it to Tame It” approach to big feelings. Sometimes just acknowledging what your child is experiencing is sufficient to curb big feelings. Scientific studies emphasize the importance of acknowledging and validating your child’s dental anxiety. Recognizing their fears and concerns can help alleviate anxiety levels. Understand that dental anxiety is a valid emotion and engage in open, non-judgmental conversations with your child to create a supportive environment. Fear and anxiety come from a primitive part of the brain and often helping a child bring their consciousness up to higher brain centers by acknowledging their experiences goes a very long way in your child’s ability to cope with a new or stressful scenario. 

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This next one may seem like a shameless plug for us but…it’s not! Pediatric Dentists are always a great choice for anxiety management surrounding the dental experience. Opting for a pediatric dentist for managing dental anxiety in children is usually fruitfall as we all have extensive training in doing so can significantly impact your child’s experience. Pediatric dentists carefully understand a child’s ability to manage a difficult experience by their age, development, and any medically relevant information. We have expertise to create a child-friendly environment, use behavior management techniques, and employ effective communication strategies. Pediatric dentists for anxiety or even a child-friendly family dentist can make a world of difference for your child.

Early Dental Visits for Anxiety Prevention

Next, is – starting at an early age (earlier than you think!). Early exposure to dental visits can help prevent and manage dental anxiety in children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommend scheduling a child’s first dental appointment by their first birthday or within six months of their first tooth eruption. Early visits establish familiarity, build trust, and reduce anxiety. Early dental visits also establish a great parent-doctor relationship which fosters a partnership as the child grows. 

Communication, communication, communication! When talking to your child about the dentist, make sure we are using Age-Appropriate Language. Using age-appropriate language when discussing dental procedures is crucial in reducing anxiety. Research suggests that explaining treatments in simple, non-threatening terms positively impacts a child’s perception of dental visits. We also really discourage parents from “over-explaining” dental procedures, as this may create a false sense of fear and anxiety. Age-appropriate communication, child-friendly dental language (aka we don’t talk about *shots*). 

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Girl smiling while sitting in dental chair - Kusp Pediatric Dentistry in Beverley Hills, CA

How to help your child manage dental anxiety in the dental office:

Both parents and dentists alike should implement positive reinforcement techniques during the child’s visit. Positive reinforcement is an effective strategy to manage dental anxiety in children. Scientific studies indicate that praising and rewarding children for their cooperation create a positive association with dental care. Giving a child proper labeled praise during their appointment like “Mia, you did an amazing job keeping your mouth open so the dentist could count your teeth”. Additionally children can have a reward systems in place for each appointment that can be discussed with the dentists and other family members. At home, after the visit, it is important to reflect on the appointment and discuss the different elements that your child excelled in.  After the visit, create a supportive environment at home is essential. Scientific studies suggest that parental presence, reassurance, and a calm demeanor positively impact a child’s dental anxiety both during and after their appointment. 

Lastly, you and your dentist may want to incorporate relaxation and distraction techniques. Guided imagery during the procedure, breathing exercises, and music are screen-free options for anxiety management. Many pediatric dental practices offer music, movies, or handheld devices for distraction during longer appointments. These may all help get your child through their appointments. 

As a parent, you have the ultimate power to help your child manage their emotions effectively. Our children are also mirroring many of our behaviors and feelings, so keeping a general positive attitude about your own dental care is important. Remember, scientific literature provides valuable insights, but every child is unique, and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for your child. With patience, understanding, and the right approach, you can support your child in maintaining good oral health and a positive attitude towards dental care. Happy Brushing!

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