My Child Has Major Dental Anxiety: What Should I Do?


There’s nothing that breaks your heart more as a parent than seeing your child suffering.

While they probably don’t know the word “anxiety” or what it means, you certainly do. As a parent when you see your child fearful or scared of a new or unfamiliar environment, you know that anxiety is largely to blame.

While a few children enjoy the dentist, we know, based on our years of experience that it can be a trying time for children and parents alike. I mean just imagine the experience through the eyes of a young child; no wonder it can be terrifying!

That’s why in this article we’re going to share with you a few strategies to help you prepare your child for visiting the dentist, as well as how the entire team at Children & Teen Dental of Alabama are equipped to calm your anxious child’s fears in the dental chair.

1: Have a conversation with your child


The effectiveness of this tip obviously depends on your child’s age and their ability to have a two-way conversation with you. That being said, if your child is old enough to have a “basic” conversation about their dental visit, you should take the opportunity to talk with them and answer any questions they have.

Here are a few things to mention:

Let them know they are going to the dentist and tell them what a dentist does in a positive way (such as “the dentist makes sure your teeth are strong!”).

Let them know you are going with them and will be with them the entire time.

Show them pictures of the dentist they are seeing, as well as the office so they know what to expect. Here are a few pictures of our dentists with some of our adorable little patients!

2: Choose a pediatric dentist

There are a lot of great general and family dental practices out there and you may already have a dentist you love. If so that’s great; you should keep seeing them!

That being said, even the best general dentist does not have the advanced education and experience with children that a pediatric dentist possesses. In fact, we recently wrote another article that discusses the key differences between a family dentist and a pediatric dentist which you can read below:

If you don’t have time to read that entire article and you’re in a hurry, here are the highlights:

Pediatric dentists have an additional 2-3 years training that is specifically designed to help them give children better dental care.
Because they treat only children, they have more experience with kids. This isn’t a knock on a family dentist, it’s simply a fact.
Pediatric dental offices are designed to be “less stuffy” and more fun to ensure kids stay entertained and have a great time. It’s like a playground meets a dental office!
They use smaller and more kid-friendly dental tools that are less intimidating.
They have extensive knowledge when it comes to preventative care for children, which can set the foundation for healthy dental habits for life.
They are better equipped to provide optimal care for children with severe dental anxiety and special needs.

There you have it…several great reasons to select a pediatric dentist for your child!

3: Lie to your kids (yes…we said it)


We’re half joking here, but admit it…you’ve lied to your kids before. You yourself may have dental anxiety or a phobia of going to the dentist or sitting in a dental chair, and it’s important that you don’t pass that along to your child.

While it’s certainly possible that some fears and phobias run in the family, it’s also likely that many phobias are learned behaviors (here’s an interesting article on the topic).

So if your child is old enough and asks, “Mommy, is the dentist scary?” Your answer should be, “No, sweetheart. You’ve got nothing to worry about. The dentist is friendly and is going to make sure your teeth stay strong!”

4: Notify your pediatric dentist when making an appointment

If you know that your child tends to get anxious at the dentist (or in other similar situations) it’s good to give the dental office a heads up when you schedule your appointment.

While most pediatric dentists are always friendly and kind with children, reminding them that your child is an anxious patient will ensure that your pediatric dentist goes the extra mile to keep your child calm and happy throughout the appointment.

5: Ask if sedation is an option

Using sedation such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is possible in certain situations. For instance, if your child is having a more complex procedure, laughing gas may be used. If you would like to learn more about nitrous oxide, including when it may be appropriate for use when caring for your child, read the article below:

6: Use positive reinforcement (the dentist and staff should be doing this)

Pediatric dentists (including the ones at our Tuscaloosa and Oxford locations) often use positive reinforcement. Whenever a child responds in a positive manner, the dentist reinforces that behavior with some form of a reward (this could be a verbal praise, a high five, etc.).

Positive reinforcement demonstrates to your child that they are doing things right and they are in a comfortable place they enjoy. Reinforcing your child’s positive behavior is extremely important and it’s something our pediatric dentists at Children & Teen Dental of Alabama do very, very well.

If you’re interested in seeing more techniques pediatric dentists use to ease your child’s dental anxiety, here’s a research paper from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry:

7: Offer your child an “after appointment reward” for good behavior


Yeah that’s right, we’re telling you to bribe your kid. Sure, this may not be the greatest parenting technique to use on a day-to-day basis, but if your child struggles with anxiety and they are able to make it through a dental visit successfully, we think that’s cause for celebration!

Obviously this doesn’t have to be anything big. We’re sure your child would love to get ice cream or get that toy they’ve been eyeing at the store for some time that you never let them get.

It doesn’t really matter what the reward is as long as your child gets something (a gift, experience, etc.) that they can look forward to. Just make sure you deliver on your promise after the appointment.

If you’re in Alabama near Oxford or Tuscaloosa, we’d love to help you and your child have a great pediatric dental visit!

Regardless of where you are, it’s important to select a pediatric dental office that has experience caring for children with dental anxiety. Of course if you’re in the Oxford or Tuscaloosa areas of Alabama, we would love for you to contact us to schedule a dental appointment for your child.

Our dentists have years of experience treating children with dental anxiety and we’ve also treated countless children with a variety of special needs.

We want you and your child to know that a dental visit doesn’t have to be scary and it doesn’t have to be filled with anxiety. If you use these tips and pick the right pediatric dentist, you can turn a traumatic experience into a fun-filled day for you and your precious child.

To learn more about our pediatric dentists in Alabama, you can “meet” our dentists by clicking on the link below:

To book your appointment, find our location nearest you and give us a call today!