Managing Dental Anxiety in Children
Do you remember your first trip to the dentist? While any good dentist will endeavour to make every experience as positive as possible, the dental seat can be a very daunting place for children. When you put yourself in their shoes and think about the various dental tools being used, the new sensation of dental work being undertaken – it’s no wonder many children experience pre-dentist nerves.
While dental anxiety can bring about a host of negative emotions, the battle doesn’t end there. If your child avoids the dentist due to dental anxiety, it can be detrimental to their oral health. The early years are the time to set your child’s smile up for life. This means developing a positive relationship with the dentist and forming the oral care habits that they’ll carry into adulthood.
While every child is different and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing dental anxiety, here’s some information to help you manage your child’s dental fear.
What is dental anxiety?
Dental anxiety is the experience of fear, stress or anxiety in a dental environment. While it’s often triggered by dental equipment like drills and needles, many children’s symptoms are set off simply by thinking about a dental practice. When most severe, dental anxiety can result in irrational fear and total avoidance of the dentist called dental phobia.
It’s no secret that avoiding the dentist negatively impacts oral health. If a child’s dental anxiety gets in the way of routine check-ups, an unhealthy pattern can emerge in which their oral health rapidly deteriorates. When dental appointments are missed, seemingly small dental issues can go undetected and grow to become costly, painful dental emergencies. Without regular dental check-ups and treatment, irreversible problems like tooth decay, tooth loss and gum disease can arise
What causes dental anxiety?
Fear of the unknown – If a child enters an unfamiliar environment and has little to no idea of what’s going to take place, the fear of the unknown can take over. This fear can cause them to assume the worst, and trigger feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
Fear of pain – Whether it be from what they’ve seen in a movie or heard in a story, many children think that the dentist is a painful place. Luckily, the majority of dental ‘horror stories’ are outdated, and modern dentistry has come a very long way. Today, most patients will leave their dentist having experienced little to no pain.
Vicarious pain – As a parent, you will have noticed that your child often mirrors your habits, attitudes and behaviours. Well, your feelings toward the dentist are no exception. Children are very perceptive, and if they pick up on their parents’ dental anxiety, they often display the same feelings. Some children also develop dental anxiety after hearing about the experience of others.
What can be done?
Knowledge is power – Try managing your child’s fear of the unknown by communicating more about the dentist. Your little one may be put at ease before, during and even after their appointment, simply by understanding what is taking place. A good dentist will be happy to familiarise your child with the equipment and talk them through the process – simply ask your dentist to explain the treatment and they’ll be happy to oblige!
Preparation is key – While most children love surprises, most don’t appreciate an unexpected visit to the dentist. It’s important to prepare your child in the lead-up to their appointment. This can be as simple as a conversation about dental check-ups, reminding them a few days prior or watching Youtube videos of other children visiting the dentist (which may even get them excited for their appointment).
Distraction during the appointment – Many parents have found that distracting their children during dental appointments can help minimise to their anxiety. Bring along their favourite music, tell them an exciting story or switch on the television to take them to their happy place!
Finding the right dentist – A child’s early experiences will impact how they perceive the dentist for many years to come. The importance of positive encounters at a young age cannot be overstated, and finding the right dentist is key.
Our four family-friendly dental practices are here to support your child throughout every step of their treatment. Whether it’s a routine check-up or a more involved procedure – we’re here to help put your child at ease and give their teeth the TLC they deserve.
Book a dental check-up at one of our three suburbs south of the river, including: