In our last post, we brought up the subject of kids with dental anxiety and promised that we’d continue the conversation and give ideas about how to ease some of that fear. If your child experiences dental fear, there is a way forward. So today, we’re going to talk about some of the most common stress factors as well as strategies for helping manage or overcome those fears.
- Pain-related factors. This one’s no surprise, right? And it’s kinda legit. I mean, most kids feel a little panic if they think something’s going to hurt. This fear could also include fear of getting a shot as well.
- Feeling stuck. This is legit too, isn’t it? I mean, sitting in a chair with your mouth hanging open and someone poking around inside it with metal instruments is a pretty vulnerable thing. If your kid is wiggly, they might feel super stressed about being told to sit still in a strange chair for so long.
- Bad past experiences. This could be anything. It could be a rude or intimidating dentist that they had an encounter with. It could be an embarrassing interaction with classmates who mocked them when they came back to school after a dentist appointment and had some numbness or swelling and couldn’t speak clearly. These are all real issues, and we are sympathetic.
- Self-consciousness. For any kids who need their personal space, going to the dentist can be very uncomfortable. The dentist is very close to their face. Kids can be really sensitive to this!
If your child experiences any of these or maybe even several of these anxieties in a debilitating way, you can help them!
- The number one best thing you can do is to listen well to your child and let them express their distress to you. Then you can help them be really honest with their dentist about their fears. A good dentist is going to be understanding and respectful to them and their concerns and will work with you to mitigate them.
- Let them ask questions at the appointment. This can take the edge off of some of the uncertainties they may have about what is going to be done throughout the appointment. Your dentist can walk them through what to expect ahead of time and then talk them through it along the way.
- Teach them relaxation or mindfulness techniques. Even if your kids are pretty young, you can start teaching them how to practice awareness and focus. Helping them learn how to breathe deeply and ground themselves when they are stressed is a helpful practice. It’s surprising how adaptable and resilient kids can be with a little coaching.
- Take breaks. Let them know that if they start to feel overwhelmed, they can let the dentist know (you can arrange a hand signal ahead of time), and he’ll let them take a break. Let them sit up, drink some water, and get re-oriented. Resume when they’re ready. (If you or your child feels embarrassed to ask for a break or if you feel like the dentist is impatient with your child, you may need to look for a different healthcare partner who prioritizes creating a safe environment.)
- Consider options like IV sedation. IV sedation provides a deep relaxation that allows your kid to be mostly unaware of the ins and out of the dental procedure.
- Distract and reward them. Let them know they can get a treat on the way home or some other motivational reward.
Bottom line, here’s what we hope you’ll take away from this post: The struggle is real. You’re not alone. We want to partner with you in caring for your kids, and we are equipped to do so.