How to Help Your Child Overcome Dental Anxiety

As a pediatric dentist, it is fascinating for me to watch the different personalities and temperaments that children display as soon as they walk through our doors here at Stonebrook Pediatric Dentistry. Since I have mentored and worked as a dental assistant since I was 17, I feel like I have really good understanding of why children have dental anxiety to begin with.

Here my top 3 reasons WHY kids have dental anxiety:

1.Fear of the Unknown

Lets face it, when we don’t know what to expect sometimes we build up the worst-case possible scenario in our heads. Kids are no different. Entering a new place is scary enough and not knowing and understanding exactly why they got brought to a dental office is even scarier

2.“Word of mouth” Experience

from a child’s sibling, friend and sometimes parents: I genuinely believe that some kids start out not being scared of haircuts, medical doctor visits and probably even dental appointments. Unfortunately older siblings will sometimes make up or even exaggerate the difficult parts of a dental check up appointment (ex: x-rays). As a result these children walk in scared and are expecting to undergo a scary experience!

3.Past unpleasant healthcare appointments

Sometimes early visits for vaccinations and medical check ups can build up anxiety and unpleasant memories. Children hold on to these experiences and assume all other healthcare providers are trying to “harm” them.

NOW, here is what I have learned through experience works best to help alleviate dental anxiety.

1. Early Dental Check-ups:

I personally recommend and so does our American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) to have the first dentist visit at 6 months of age or prior to kids turning 1.

You are probably wondering, how is this going to help them with dental anxiety?

What I have noticed is that these early dental exam/cleaning appointments when kids have only the bottom two baby teeth or maybe 4 teeth are quick and as time goes on and they return to see us every 6 months, they soon make a connection that a pediatric dentist visit is different than a check up with a pediatrician.

These early visits are great because it gives me an opportunity to talk with parents about brushing, diet and teething issues. I also get to take a look at the teeth and see if the enamel (outer shell of teeth) is weak, prone to cavities or starting to get cavities. (BELIEVE it or not kids can get cavities even at 6-8 months of age when they only have 2-4 teeth!) ALSO, here at Stonebrook Pediatric Dentistry exams/cleanings for kids under 2 are FREE so why not stop by!

2. Modeling:

Letting kids who are anxious watch older siblings undergo a dental visit or a complete stranger who is about the same age as the anxious child.

Modeling is a method behavioral psychologists have done tons of research on and the evidence is there to prove that it works! What we here at Stonebrook Pediatric Dentistry love to do to put modeling into effect is to allow the older sibling to go first for the dental visual exam, cleaning and x-rays. Meanwhile, I politely ask the younger sibling to be my “dental helper” for the day. I let them hold a giant size blue or pink mirror and stand right next to where I am seated. As I am doing the exam, I teach the younger child about all the little tools involved during a dental check up (example the overhead light and explorer-“tooth counter”)

Sometimes, at Stonebrook Pediatric Dentistry we get very anxious children who perhaps don’t have a sibling or don’t come in the same day as their sibling. For these situations, we love to start of with a lengthy tour of our practice and use stuffed animals with teeth to provide the modeling effects. In pediatric dentistry, patience is key and I have personally found many 2 or 3 year olds do great after showing them what to expect on stuffed animals. If we find that a child is still very anxious, we usually only do what they feel comfortable with and post pone the rest! Yes, that is totally acceptable. There is no rule that for every dental appointment one must complete a cleaning, exam and x-rays! Finishing on a happy note is more important to us for a dental check up.

3. Not Sharing Details about the Dental Visit:

Believe it or not for some things in your child’s life letting them experience it for themselves it probably the BEST thing you can do for them. Any really good pediatric dentistry office will first talk to your child and show them the steps of a dental exam prior to performing anything. For the really little ones, a skilled pediatric dentist will use props and stuffed animals to show step by step exactly what will be performed. I genuinely believe that sometimes talking to little ones about what to expect during their first dental visit builds anxiety even if they seem confident and not shy going in to the appointment. If you feel that you have a very inquisitive child then maybe at most showing them a video rather than talking about it is better.

(PS I am thinking about making a video soon using one of our own patients to show kids what a dental checkup appointment looks like)

So there you have it, these are my favorite 3 methods of reducing dental anxiety. I hope you enjoyed this and in a future blog I will talk to you about something very important called Desensitization-how it can be used to overcome any kind of situational anxiety!

Thank you for reading this and I am looking forward to seeing your family soon!


Abhishek (Dr. Bhaumik and Dr. John aka Dr. B 🙂

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