3 Easy Tips for Helping Young Patients with Dental Anxiety

We’ve revamped a previously published article to give you some additional information on how to help pediatric patients with dental anxiety—and perhaps even get them to view their dental appointments as a positive experience.

Nod your head if you just loved going to the dentist as a kid. Anyone? Maybe someone way in the back? Alright, then.

Even though you may love working in the dental industry now, as a kid you probably recall the moments leading up to your dental appointment with a mixture of uneasy anticipation or even downright dread. This isn’t surprising, either, as fear of the dentist is one of the most common fears in the U.S., and unlike other common phobias (like a fear of spiders), being afraid to visit the dentist can lead to decidedly negative consequences from a lack of proper oral health care. This can lead to significant dental problems that require more invasive treatment, which only compounds already existing dental anxiety instead of alleviating it or making it more manageable.

Dental anxiety has many causes depending on the individual, but for children, these are the most common:

  • Potential for Pain
  • Discomfort with unfamiliar surroundings
  • Bad experiences at prior dental appointments
  • Aversion to close contact with or touching by unfamiliar people
  • Dislike of lack of control or ability to leave the situation

These are all understandable feelings, especially for really young patients with limited exposure to dental appointments. But as dental professionals who know the importance of good oral hygiene, having strategies in place to help pediatric patients with a fear of the dentist is essential. Implementing these three practices into the way your dental offices approaches pediatric appointments can go a long way to helping children overcome their dental fears.

  1. Distract them in the waiting room
    Offer various activities for young patients to participate in so they can focus on something besides the appointment “waiting game.” Have a couple tablets on hand with kid-friendly cartoons, shelves with children’s books, or a corner filled with games and coloring books to keep them calm and create positive associations with your practice. This is especially useful for parents who bring in multiple children for appointments on the same day, which leaves at least one child waiting for their turn.
  2. Build a relationship
    Start off the appointment with some conversation and make an effort to create a bond with your young patients. Try out a simple magic trick, tell a joke, or ask for feedback on the activities in your waiting room. And take a few moments to explain what you’ll be doing during the appointment and how it will help them keep their teeth healthy and strong and to answer any questions they have. This will give the child some time to get comfortable with their surroundings and you, the dental professional, so that they’ll be ready for the appointment to start.
  3. Reinforce positive experiences
    If your pediatric patient does well during his or her appointment—reward them for that. Whether that means verbal praise or an extra token from your prize box, showing them that keeping calm during the appointment leads to a much more positive dental experience will only improve future visits. Dental anxiety doesn’t typically go away over night, but continue praise at the end of successful appointments will help reinforce the idea that the dental office isn’t a scary place and lead to less stress about future appointments.

These strategies—while not requiring an extensive amount of time or resources—will help young anxious patients have a positive experience in your office and demonstrate that your practice is dedicated to providing the highest quality dental care possible.