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How to Help Small Children Feel Less Anxious at the Dentist

Nobody likes going to the dentist and even adults can put it off out of fear, so it’s easy to understand why young children get so anxious at the prospect. While it may be frustrating to see your child so frightened, there are a few things you can do to ease that anxiety. Here are just a few methods you can try to ease the situation.

Don’t Give too Many Details

In anticipation of their child’s first dentist’s visit, many parents get into too much detail. Talking about cleanings and cavities can lead to too many questions, which, in turn, will lead to more questions. Before you know it, you’re trying to delicately explain root canals and tooth extractions. Instead, simply talk about the cleaning and avoid going into “what if” scenarios.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Conversely, don’t lie. If you give your child an idyllic impression of what to expect and the dentist finds a cavity, you may lose credibility. Your child may lose trust in you and begin to associate the dentist’s office with deception. Additionally, trying to prepare your child for the pain of a deep cleaning or drill and fill may do more harm than good. Instead, let the dental assistant take care of that. Most dentists recommend that parents simply explain that the dentist visit is to check their smile and count their teeth.

Ease Concerns over Cavities

Suppose the dentist does find a cavity and it’s going to involve some drilling. By explaining the concept of sedation dentistry to your child, you can ease their concerns that the procedure will hurt. If they know the dentist is going to treat the area with a sedative or a numbing medication, that may be enough to ease their anxiety. If they’re prepared for the visit, they’ll be less likely to have a last minute fight or flight response.

Make It a Positive Experience

Bring along your partner or a friend to help make the office visit seem less clinical and more like a social event. Your child can feel more relaxed by familiar faces. Also, having support will help you feel more at ease as well. If your child can look at you and see that you’re relaxed, he or she is less likely to experience anxiety.

Taking young children to the dentist can be a trying experience, but by keeping things light and unassuming, you can limit the trauma and fear the visit might otherwise inspire. Also, by starting young, children will become acclimated to the experience of a dental exam and they’re less likely to associate it with negative feelings. By the time they’re older and do have their first dental problem, they’re familiar with the dentist and the overall experience.

Tim Esterdahl

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