Helping Your Child Overcome A Dental Phobia

boy in dentist chair looking scared

(Editor’s note: Please welcome Richard, with some advice on how to deal with childhood phobias. Thanks, Richard!)

It’s a part of life. Everyone has one.
If that is all you say to comfort a child with a phobia, it may be time to try a different way to help them conquer their fears. Some phobias, like arachnophobia (spiders), nyctophobia (the dark), or even didaskaleinophobia (school), are fairly common, and it is logical that a child, who is relatively new to these everyday things, would, to some extent, experience intense fears to some of them.

It doesn’t happen overnight.
Helping your child overcome their phobia cannot be magically achieved overnight, but it all starts with your approach to the child. If you can remember, a good place to start is to put yourself in your child’s shoes, and try to understand where they are coming from based on how it feels to be their age: when you were around five and dentophobic or odontophobic, experiencing possibly even diagnosable levels of fear and anxiety from having to receive any kind of dental care. Even if your child’s particular fear seems trivial to you, try to understand it and never act as though it is ridiculous of them to feel the way the do.

Everyone feels it at some stage.
Again, the fear of going to the dentist is logical. Even some perfectly normal adults get a little uncomfortable about the formidable chair, and about being asked to lay there as someone they barely know sticks pointy metal tools in their mouth. Dental phobia is actually sometimes diagnosed by child therapists; it is not always easy or even possible for children to put on a brave face when they are called from the waiting room. It can be nerve wracking for anyone, but for a child, a dentist appointment can be an absolutely terrifying ordeal, and is a total relinquishment of their control.

If it is just a regular check-up or cleaning (nothing too scary), you can try explaining to your child what is going to be done. You can offer to go into the room with them, hold their hand or talk to them, and tell them that lots of people go to the dentist, and are perfectly all right when the treatment is over. You can take them somewhere fun afterwards. If the fear is allowed to fester, it can lead to other problems like gum disease, which require even more invasive treatment.

Don’t suffer in silence.
If all else fails, talk to your dentist about a sedative for your child, which will either make them fall asleep or relax them drastically. There are a few different types of sedative, and some may be more or less appropriate for little developing bodies. Because it is likely is only a checkup or a cleaning, and especially since your child is still growing, try to avoid unnecessary strong medications, and definitely talk with your dentist about sedation before your child is nervously twiddling his or her thumbs in the waiting room.

How to overcome your own phobia.
With dental anxiety, as with other phobias and intense fears, try to turn facing the source of the anxiety into a learning experience. With spiders and insects, teach children how to get the bug outside and not to kill it, because it really means them no harm, either. Allow kids to have a nightlight or safe lamp on if they are afraid of the dark, and get them a pet who sleeps in their room (they will learn about taking care of another creature), or allow siblings to share a bedroom if they want to (this will help them learn to share and coexist with others).

Richard is a freelance writer who enjoys producing content on health, phobia and children’s wellbeing. If you would like to learn more about his writings then check him out at @thefreshhealth.

Image courtesy of Finizio via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

Earnest Parenting: advice for parents with fearful children.

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  • Richard September 9, 2011, 6:57 am

    Hello and thank you so much for posting it up. If anybody has any further questions about it then please let me know.

    Reply
  • Orem Dentist December 22, 2011, 8:16 pm

    Let’s face it, the dentist is not exactly the most popular person to a kid. However, that doesn’t mean that your child’s dental experience has to be traumatic. A good dentist is very sensitive and attentive to helping a patient overcome these fears and feel comfortable. LIke you said, dental care is a must so there’s really no way around it except to help your child accept it as a part of their regular health care routine.

    Reply
  • Richard January 3, 2012, 11:15 am

    Nicely said!

    Reply
  • Orem Dentist January 30, 2012, 3:03 pm

    Thanks so much for this post! So true. I does help if their first experience is with a great dentist. It’s important to do a little research before sending your child to just any dentist for the first time. Great tips though, thanks again!

    Reply
  • Richard January 31, 2012, 5:43 am

    You’re welcome!

    Reply