Dentistry For Children: How to Tackle Dental Anxiety
Dental anxiety is a state of nervousness caused by the thought of an approaching dental appointment. Odontophobia or dental phobia literally means “fear of the dentist” and is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a real concern.
It is estimated that around 15-20% of the population suffers from dental anxiety, and most commonly children because they have had prior negative experiences at the dentist. The biggest problem with dental anxiety is that it causes us to avoid essential dental care. And as we all know, the longer you go without dental cleanings and checkups, the more your oral health will suffer.
Dental Anxiety in Children
Dental anxiety in children is very common. While parents hesitate to put their children through uncomfortable and fearful situations, postponing dental visits only delays the necessary care that their kids need for healthy oral development. Dental fear and anxiety are major challenges in pediatric dentistry. But one of the ways to help your child overcome their dental anxiety is by building a trusting relationship with a pediatric dentist. Communicating your child’s fears to the dental team is necessary for addressing their concerns and managing their expectations.
From children as young as 5 years of age to adults, anyone can exhibit symptoms of dental anxiety, and this can range widely in severity. Studies have proven that severe dental phobia has been experienced by at least 10% of children and young adults. An anxious child may show certain signs of stress and nervousness or may feel emotional when visiting their dentist. Whereas a child with extreme dentophobia may have temper tantrums or even act sick to avoid going to the dentist.
Why Do Children Have Dental Anxiety and Fear?
Negative Experiences of The Past
When a child has had a bad experience with a dentist in the past, it can influence their view of all dentists. They will assume that they’re going to have similar encounters in the future. Children may start to connect general cleaning sessions with feelings of pain and discomfort, toothaches, or loud and scary noises, instead of looking forward to having clean teeth and healthy gums. If your child expresses negative feelings about their recent dental visit, it is important to understand and placate them, ensuring that such a circumstance won’t occur again. At the same time, as a parent you should discuss this concern with the dental team, find out the source of their anxiety and address it.
Poor Hygiene and Fear of Embarrassment
Evident dental issues like tooth decay or dental deformities can make even adults feel embarrassed, so it is obvious that children can feel self-conscious about it. Also, kids who have been teased about such issues have a stronger fear of embarrassment. Even a poor dental report, especially when compared to a sibling, can make children fear that they will be punished. Furthermore, dental cleanings that result in a recommendation for fillings or other major dental treatments can make children feel significantly anxious.
If your child is struggling with brushing teeth and has poor oral hygiene, you should help them learn how to brush and floss properly. It might be challenging or frustrating but convincing your children that their smile is valuable and should be cared for is worth that extra effort. There are many enthusiastic tips and tricks that can help instill the habit of brushing and flossing teeth in children. One of these is letting your child choose their own toothbrush. By doing this you’re engaging their sense of ownership and curiosity which will get them excited about brushing teeth. Another trick is using technology to your advantage. There are many apps made specially for teaching kids oral hygiene that have children’s favourite characters guiding them through two minutes of proper tooth brushing techniques. Also, one of the most effective ways to implement great oral hygiene habits is to make brushing and flossing teeth a visible family affair. Children are like sponges, so they will learn (absorb) and become whatever they observe. Showing them your enthusiasm about clean teeth and letting them observe your oral habits and behaviors will go a long way in setting the standards for oral hygiene. Apart from these, tapping into positive reinforcement strategies for school-aged children has proven to be more successful than negative feedback. To practice positive reinforcement, you can celebrate and reward your child every time they brush and floss with activities or treats that they like the most.
Lack of Understanding
Children are often anxious about new experiences, so the sights and sounds of a dentist’s office can often intimidate or overwhelm them. Even for adults, understanding certain kinds of dental treatments can be perplexing, but because we are able to ask questions, it gets comparatively easier for us. So, the next time you’re letting your child know about an upcoming appointment, you should consider the fact that they lack the understanding, and be open and honest with them regarding the visit plus what they should expect. A child who knows and understands what to expect or what will happen at the dentist’s office and why, is more likely to cooperate and make it through the treatment without experiencing anxiety. You can share this information with them through words that impose how important it is to have a set of teeth that are healthy and strong and form a lovely smile. At Georgian Dental, our team of pediatric dentists is specially trained to make children understand whatever procedures they are undergoing in a comfortable way and one which is fun to learn.
Signs and Symptoms of Dental Anxiety
More often than not, parents of anxious children miss the subtle signs of dental anxiety. Although, the symptoms are different for every child, it is likely that your child has dental anxiety if he or she is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:
- He or she is feeling cranky, easily irritated, and angry before the dentist’s appointment.
- They are sad, fearful, and even tearful before, during or after a dental appointment.
- They are sweating and have flushed cheeks.
- The night before the dental visit, your child is restless and unable to sleep.
- They feel faint and dizzy.
- They are constantly feeling sick and hoping that their appointment will be cancelled at the last minute.
How To Calm Your Child’s Nerves Before a Dentist Appointment
The most important step you can take to calm your child’s dental anxiety is to build a trusting relationship with a pediatric dentist. It is important to communicate your child’s fears and apprehensions to your dentist and their team so that they can correspond appropriately with your child and make him/her feel comfortable by managing his/her specific concerns.
Here are some things you can do to calm your child before the big day:
- If something like a stuffed toy or a blanket comforts them, let them bring it to the dentist’s office.
- Use distractions like a phone, tablet, or music. Nowadays, even dental clinics have modern amenities like video games, fun music, or popular movies to help anxious children relax.
- Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises can help too.
- Providing positive reinforcement with rewards like toys, candies or ice-cream after the visit can feel comforting to your child.
- Be there for your child and communicate with them. Let them know that the dentist is only going to help them.
Find An Attentive Dental Team
Dental anxiety also arouses from a fear of not being able to control whatever is happening. You can help your child understand the various aspects of the dental treatment by taking small breaks in between to address any concerns they may have. Being able to ask questions will help them regain some sense of control during the visit. At this point, your dentist should also be cooperative and respond with kindness and a desire to help. Besides, you must encourage your child to ask questions if they are curious regarding the treatment as communication goes a long way in fighting dental anxiety.
A Pediatric Dental Practice Empowered by Modern Technology
If you haven’t visited a pediatric dental practice in so long, you might be surprised. Improved technology has eased many dental procedures for children as compared to before. Keeping cute little mouths in mind, dentistry has modernized in almost all areas including fluoride treatments and composite fillings, and even with the initial check-in process. Most pediatric dentists these days have a friendly environment that has kid-friendly instruments. All these improvements help make dental appointments shorter, safer, and more enjoyable for children. Before choosing a pediatric dentist for your child, make sure you ask them how they make appointments more comfortable for children.
Emphasize That Good Oral Hygiene Is Important
Visiting the dentist for regular checkups and cleanings so that your teeth remain strong and healthy is more of a necessity and not a choice, and as a parent it’s important to communicate this with your child. Tell your child that, for them to be able to eat, talk or even smile properly, going to the dentist is mandatory, not optional. You can also explain this in a way that they can understand, to help keep “sugar bugs” at bay and keep their teeth strong, healthy, and shiny for years to come.
Pediatric Dentistry at Georgian Dental
If you start early and start right with a pediatric dentist team that you can trust, your child’s overall dental experience will turn out to be great. At Georgian Dental, we make sure to deliver a dental experience that is comfortable, caring, and curated specially for children. We understand how the first dental visit can affect a child’s perception of their dentist and how they will approach their oral health, so we make it as easy, comfortable, and positive as possible to start them off right. We also work closely with parents and try to understand their child’s apprehensions in the best way so that they have a great experience in our office from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.
To learn more about the range of dental services we offer for children, call, and book a consult today. Your child deserves oral care that is caring, comfortable, and compassionate, and we are here to deliver it!