| Kid Afraid of the Dentist?

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“Your child’s dental hygiene is important, but sometimes their fear of the dentist can get in the way of simple routine checkups. Follow these expert tips on making the dentist less scary for your kids.”

Do you like going to the dentist? Of course not, right? I mean, who does! In fact, Colgate estimates that up to 15 percent of American adults avoid the dentist out of fear or anxiety. (That’s 40 million people!)

Fear of the dentist usually stems from a bad childhood experience. Properly preparing your child for his dental visits could mean a world of difference in how he views the dentist and dental care for the rest of his life.

As an adult, you probably have more anxiety about what your dental insurance covers and how large of a bill you're going to get. While, your child isn't worried about saving money at the dentist, he is probably worried about facing other unknowns. Like what do those sharp-looking instruments do?

So, in the spirit of National Children's Dental Month, we’ve asked some dentists from around the world to share their tips for making the dentist less scary for your kids. Read on to learn more and make your children’s dental care easier on the both of you.

Want to make the dentist less scary for you? Compare dental insurance rates from multiple carriers at once.

dentist shows child model of teeth


Should you take your child to your family dentist or a pediatric dentist?

The answer depends mostly on your child, his needs and his comfort-level.

Dr. David Moffet, self-proclaimed No. 1 authority on world class dental service and creator of The Ultimate Patient Experience™, recommends taking your children to a pediatric dentist or a practice that specializes in children’s dental care.

“This is what I did for my own children. It eliminates the fear factor and helps create a non-dental bond between the child and the dental practice,” says Dr. David. - Tweet this!

He calls an adult dental office “quite daunting” to children. We couldn’t agree more. The bleak, sterile offices could give your child the wrong impression. Whereas, pediatric offices are usually equipped with fun décor, TVs and games.

What if you really like your current general dental practitioner?

While pediatric dentist offices are usually better equipped to handle children, Dr. Jennifer Dean who owns Rancho Santa Fe Cosmetic and Family Dentistry in San Diego, believes the most important thing is to find a dentist that works well with your child.

“That may specifically be a pediatric dentist. But a general dentist is absolutely an option if that doctor fits your child the best. There is no one-size-fits-all, and your child may simply feel more comfortable with one over another.”

- Dr. Jennifer Dean

child plays dentist with dad


Preparation is key to making sure your child is ready to face his fear of the dentist.

Discuss the appointment beforehand

Australian dentist, Dr. Frank Farrelly has written several blogs about children’s dentistry for Darlinghurst Dental. In this one about preparing your child for the dentist, he recommends discussing the visit in advance. This way your child knows what to expect.

He emphasizes that it’s important to pay attention to the language you use.

“Language suggesting a reason to be afraid should be avoided,” says Dr. Frank. - Tweet this!

That means words like “hurt”, “ouch”, “scary”, “shot” and “bad” are a no-no. Instead, speak and act positively about the dentist when explaining what will happen.

This can be especially hard for you if you suffer from fear or anxiety yourself. Take it from Dr. Jenn who has observed one consistency while working with thousands of children over the years. Phobic parents almost always have phobic children.

“Often unknowingly, parents are conveying to their children there is a reason to be afraid, which makes it significantly harder from the get-go.”

- Dr. Jennifer Dean

How to talk positively about the dentist

Jona Trottier, a dental hygienist and author of the blog getsmilefitness.com, says that when talking about the dentist it’s best to “keep it brief and make it all easy and fun.” This advice is especially helpful if you have your own reservations about the dentist.

Jona recommends pretend role-playing at home to initiate the conversation, as well as reading a book about your child’s favorite character going to the dentist.

She gives the following examples of things to say when playing dentist with your child.

  • "Let’s count your teeth."
  • "Let’s make sure your teeth are all strong."
  • "We’re going to shine your teeth all up."
  • "Show the dentist how good you’ve been taking care of your teeth at home."

Offering a reward

Many dentist offices, especially pediatric ones, give rewards to a child at the end of the visit.

For example, Dr. Frank’s office gives out stickers, toys or coloring books as prizes. He says it’s fine to let your child know ahead of time that they can expect a reward for a job well-done.

“Rather than saying it is due to the process of dental treatment, it can be just a reward for good behavior and being brave to try a new thing,” he explains.

Offering your child a reward outside the dentist office is always a great option too. Just remember, to stay away from treats like candy or cake that can send mixed signals to your child about dental health. Try rewarding your children with a fun experience, like a trip to the park or their favorite movie.

child gets sticker from dentist


If you’ve prepared properly before the appointment, these next tips should be easy to incorporate into your appointment routine.

Let the professional do the talking

During the appointment, it’s important that you let the dentist do the talking. This helps them build a rapport with your child.

A pediatric dentist is trained to deal with children. Thus, they'll usually know how to interact with your child. Don’t be afraid, though, to ask the dentist or hygienist to explain to your child what they’re doing every step of the way.

Jona uses phrases like, “we’re going to go for a ride in a cool chair,” “a special tooth counter is going to walk on each tooth to see how nice and strong they are,” and “they’ll tickle your teeth with a special toothbrush that makes them sparkle” to make her young patients feel more comfortable.

Making your child comfortable

Having the dentist talk through the process is one way to make sure your child is comfortable. Jona offers some additional tips you should consider:

  • Schedule first visits in the morning before your child has the chance to become weary.
  • Bring their favorite stuffed animal to hold and squeeze during the appointment. The dentist might even be able to check its teeth too!
  • Bring a pair of sunglasses to block the bright lights.

The power of distraction

Sometimes the best way to keep your children comfortable is to keep them distracted. Pediatric dental offices usually offer plenty of distraction tools like TVs, toys and fun décor.

Dr. Jen finds TVs to be a great option but also has a couple tricks up her sleeve.

“In-room TVs work great to distract kids for longer durations. But my go-to for something that can be particularly difficult, like an injection, is to make a comment about how strong my assistant is, but I think they might just be stronger than even my assistant. I can usually get my patient arm wrestling my assistant from here, which significantly reduces attention on things around them.”

- Dr. Jennifer Dean

With a good dentist and proper preparation, you can make the dentist less scary for your child. To leave you with one final bit of advice: no matter what you do, children are prone to fussing and wiggling. Remember to have patience and provide support throughout the whole process.

Do you have additional tips to add to the list? Let us know! Tweet @EnsuremLLC and help parents live #LifeOptmized.

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