Did you know that approximately 20% of all children have a fear of going to the dentist? Even with some of the best dental health care in the world, children in the United States still remain anxious, and for various reasons, too. The reasons might seem irrational, but in a child’s head, these fears are very real and very scary. Regardless of the cause of your son or daughter’s dental anxiety, how intense it is, or how long they’ve had it, there’s a solution. Let’s delve a little deeper into why your child is afraid to visit the dentist. Ultimately, we can help you come up with a workable solution regarding fixing children’s dental anxiety.
Warning Signs of Dental Anxiety in Children
Normally, children are pretty transparent when it comes to their fears of the dentist. They might cry, pout, or throw a fit whenever they’re told that they’re going to be heading off to the dentist. However, sometimes children hide their dental anxiety, especially if they tend to internalize their fears in general.
Some signs your son or daughter has secret dental anxiety might include:
- Trying to distract parents before the time of their dental appointment, hoping they will forget to take them
- Going mute right before or during dental appointments
- Complaining of a racing or pounding heart before going to the dentist
- Frequent sighing on the way to the dentist (whether due to anxiety-induced shortness of breath or annoyance with the dentist)
- Feeling hesitant to sit or lie on the dentist’s chair
- Asking many questions about the dentist that may signify worry (e.g., “Will it hurt when they clean my teeth?” “When will the appointment be over?” “Do I have to go?”)
- Needing to bring a stuffed animal or other means of comfort to their visit each time
- Dwelling on criticism/advice from dentists after appointments
Reasons Your Child is Afraid to Visit the Dentist
The thing with fear is that while fear is fear, it’s really not all the same. Children have different types and levels of fear. They might have different symptoms from one another. In addition, they all react to fear a little differently. They also have different reasons behind their fears.
When it comes to the dentist, some common reasons a child might be afraid to visit the dentist include:
- A pre-existing fear of needles or other sharp objects
- Feeling embarrassed about the current state of their oral health
- Having a bad experience at the dentist previously (e.g., rough or mean dentist, painful oral surgery, etc.)
- An annoyance with being touched, especially by strangers, or having their personal space invaded
- A very low pain tolerance and/or fear of pain
- Having heard something negative about the dentist from a friend or a news article
- An underlying fear of socializing with the dentist & hygenist due to shyness or social anxiety disorder
- A feeling of lack of control when on the chair at the dentist
- The worry of equipment being unsterile
- A fear of choking on an object while getting work done while lying down on the dentist’s chair
- Anxiety surrounding getting negative feedback from the dentist, such as a cavity diagnosis or being told they aren’t brushing well, especially if your child is a perfectionist
Clearly, dental anxiety can be due to an already-existing anxiety disorder or can be triggered outside of such. Either way, dental anxiety is an actual problem and one that can cause some very real symptoms and issues.
Interestingly, a study also revealed that children of single-parent households are also more likely to develop dental anxiety.
The Dangers of Dental Anxiety
Dental anxiety might seem like something that’s “all in the head.” In reality, it’s something that can not only cause some serious mental and emotional trauma in children but can ultimately have some serious effects on your kids.
Initially, anxiety can be uncomfortable. But the worse it gets, the worse the symptoms get. Your child’s anxiety symptoms can be exhausting, very scary, and even huge inconveniences for them. They might have to frequently go to the restroom, feel like they’re going to vomit before their appointment, have to skip out on eating or drinking anything until their appointment is over, or even struggle to sleep the night prior. In turn of these inconveniences, your child might feel more anxious, act out physically, begin to experience health consequences, or even be late to their dental appointment.
Over time, your child’s anxiety may get so bad that they completely refuse to go to the dentist at all, putting their oral health at risk. Even if they continue going while they’re living under your roof, they may stop attending as independent adults. No parent wants to feel like they’ve failed their child and should’ve done more as a parent. Let alone, parents don’t want to learn that their child is no longer going on the healthy route.
Children’s dental anxiety can also be hard on you as the parent. It isn’t easy getting anxious children to relax. You’ve probably tried everything and said everything to try to relax them with no luck. It’s a significant challenge just getting our dental anxiety-ridden child in the car to attend their dentist appointment. You might dread taking them as much as they dread going.
How to Resolve Children’s Dental Anxiety
Your child might be afraid to visit the dentist now, but they don’t always have to be. Unfortunately, though, with anxiety, it tends to take time, patience, and trial-and-error to resolve. However, the sooner you start, the quicker you can resolve the fact that your kiddo is afraid to visit the dentist.
One of the best ways to ease children worried about the dentist is to educate them. Tell them what the dentist does. Let them know how important it is that they visit the dentist twice a year. Sometimes, lack of education is the result of their dental anxiety from the start. So, get them in tune.
Another way to get an anxious child comfortable within the walls of their local dentist’s office is to have them tag along with you to your own dental appointments. The more they’re within a dental setting, the more the environment will become normal and safe in their head.
In addition, calming your child down prior to their appointment can be done with lavender essential oil spray, relaxing music, or deep-breathing exercises.
We also recommend keeping your child with the same pediatric dentist as long as possible. Some children may have difficulty adjusting when they keep going to different dentists. Only change your kid’s dentist if your child doesn’t seem to get along with that specific dentist, if that dentist isn’t very friendly with children, or if your child had another sort of bad experience with the dentist. A pediatric dentist should be knowledgeable and trustworthy both in your eyes as well as in your child’s eyes.
If your child’s anxiety is severe or is getting worse, it’s time to talk to your child’s dentist to see if they have anything in mind that can make them more comfortable during appointments. You may also want to get your child to see a doctor or mental health professional in the case that their anxiety is difficult to control, especially outside of their dental appointments. There may be something underlying going on. In the end, your child deserves to live as anxiety-free as possible.