A child with dental anxiety is an experience that many families are familiar with. That’s to say, it’s pretty common. Still, as a parent, you’ll likely want to soothe the stress that your child is facing, prior to and during a dentist appointment. If you don’t have any first-hand experience dealing with dental anxiety, it can be difficult figuring out how to effectively manage it. So, where do you even begin, when you want to help and support your child?
First, try to get into the headspace of your child. The dentist's office is often a new and unfamiliar experience. Therefore this adds an element of tension to the picture. The process of having their teeth cared for by a dentist, who is using instruments that your child might not know the purpose of, is often uncomfortable for a child. Sometimes, this discomfort grows into full-blown dental anxiety.
The Top 4 Ways to Help a Child With Dental Anxiety
1. Talk to your child about their fears
We know — this might sound too simple. However, more often than not, having an honest conversation with your child is the best place to start. First, use this opportunity to answer any questions your child may have about their dentist appointment. Also, what they should expect at the appointment? As we mentioned earlier, unfamiliarity often contributes a good deal to your child's fear.
Make sure you’re framing the experience as positively as possible in all your explanations. For instance, you might tell your child that the dentist’s job is to “keep your teeth strong.” Maintaining a positive tone could help quell some of your child’s fears.
Of course, this will be a more effective tactic for older children, who are more capable of carrying on a two-way conversation.
2. Let your dentist know that you have a child with dental anxiety
If your child’s dentist is aware of their fears, they’ll be able to better accommodate them. Keep in mind that family and pediatric dentists have a lot of experience with dental anxiety in their patients. They’ve seen it many times before. As a result, they know how to best handle the issue. If the dentist goes out of their way to ensure that your child is comfortable, there’s a good chance that their anxiety will swiftly go down.
3. Ask about sedation
While this isn’t going to be the best course of action in all situations, it is sometimes useful. For some dental procedures, your dentist may be willing to use nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”). This may help the experience be manageable for your anxious child. Especially with more complex procedures, nitrous oxide can go a long way to help relax a child and make the process less scary, all throughout.
If you’re unsure when nitrous oxide is a viable option for your child, it’s a good idea to speak to your dentist. They’ll be able to explain which procedures could typically warrant nitrous oxide administration.
4. Utilize positive reinforcement techniques
A parent should use positive reinforcement techniques with their child with dental anxiety. More importantly, their dentist should be using this strategy as well. It is normal for pediatric dentists to use positive reinforcement. They usually do this even in situations where the child doesn’t experience dental anxiety. In general, it’s a sound way to make the process more worthwhile in the eyes of your child. It will help them be less resistant to necessary procedures or cleanings in the future.
If a child has a positive response during the dental process, then their dentist will often positively reinforce this response — this can mean a variety of things, from giving your child praise to giving them a high five. Providing rewards to the child makes it clear that they are in a safe and comfortable environment.
Looking for family dental services in the Hurst, Texas area? Give us a call or contact us here. We have vast experience working with children, including children who experience dental anxiety.