Dentophobia: How to Help Kids Deal with Anxiety about Dental Procedures

Young child visiting the dentist.

You see and hear about it everywhere: children and adults alike are nervous about going to the dentist. In fact, in many cases, they’re more than nervous.

Dentophobia, or simply dental fear and anxiety (DFA) is incredibly common, not only in North America, but also around the world. According to various studies and reports, 74% of children and adolescents report anxiety, and one in ten of them suffer from a severe phobia that almost entirely inhibits them from going to the dentist’s office at all.

There are different reasons why kids might be scared of the dentist. Many of them are similar to the reasons that adults are scared, including being self-conscious about their oral health and a generalized fear of needles. Other concerns are more child-specific, like the fear of the unknown, having never actually been to the dentist before, and a general feeling of powerlessness.

Whatever the reason, as a dentist, it’s important that you do your best to alleviate your patient’s concerns.

Here are a few tips to help kids deal with their dental jitters for any procedure, and ensure a pleasant experience for everyone!

Communicate with Kids

The most important place to start is by talking to the kids themselves. By nature, kids are naturally curious and eager to explore the world around them. Here’s are some examples of ways you can ensure you’re communicating clearly and effectively with your young patients:

  • Talk to your patient directly, not “around” them. While communication with parents is important too (see below), it’s important that the child be at the center of your attention.
  • Ask them about their life and hobbies! Get them comfortable and laughing before you get down the the serious business.
  • Speak calmly and use more simple words that kids understand in order to help them relax. Don’t overcomplicate things, medical words and confusing terms can be scary and cause their imgaintions to run wild.
  • Be the “hype-wo/man” so to speak, and praise them throughout the appointment. Positive reinforcement is absolutely key, and works wonders on easing stress. You can always promise them a trip to a prize cabinet or treausre drawer as a fun reward to look forward to.

Talk to Parents

Almost equally important to helping kids deal with dental procedure anxiety, is establishing and cultivating a strong relationship with their parents. Research suggests that parental dental fear is a key factor in whether or not someone will develop dental fear and anxiety of their own.

Consider the following when talking to parents:

  • Provide them with some key “talking points” in advance. A great guide that you can provide parents is The Kids’ Guide to the Dentist, a fun story that takes kids through their first dental visit and what they can expect.
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  • Address their own concerns. As mentioned, parental dental fear is a strong indicator for dental fear in their children. By easing their own anxieties, parents are better able to ensure that their kids don’t repeat similar habits.
  • Give them some key resources that they can take home and share with their kids before their first visit, or in between subsequent visits.

By communicating clearly with parents and providing them with the resources that they need, you can take another step in reducing overall dental anxiety with your young patients.

Create a Welcoming Space

On top of open communication with your patients and their parents, one of the most important things you can do to help with dental anxiety is to provide a welcoming and friendly environment.

A welcoming environment can take a few different shapes. Some suggestions include:

  • Books that kids and their parents can peruse while waiting for the dentist— particularly if they’re dentist-themed!
  • Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint can help make all the difference. Within a general practice, consider a colorful children’s play and activity area. Playgrounds are always bright and colourful, so painting a special space for kids in a colour they know if meant for fun and play eases them into your environment.
  • Create a space made just for kids. A private room or even just a corner that acts as a welcoming space for children to hang out in before their appointment makes kids feel special.
tent entrance paly area with tree and woodland creatures
  • If your practice is primarily focused on kids, you might want to consider going beyond just one designated play area, and set up a whole themed office. This ensures that kids are interacting with a dynamic and exciting space every step of the way. By transforming a space into a magical destination kids will be excited to go to the dentist, competely eliminating that pesky dentophobia.

sculpted sandcastle reception desk and custom beach mural in pediatric dental office

By helping kids deal with dental anxiety at a young age, you will instill healthy habits within them, helping to ensure that they don’t grow into overly anxious adults that avoid proper oral health solely out of fear.

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For more ideas on how to transform your dental office into the most welcoming space possible for kids, contact Imagination Design Studios (IDS) to talk to a creative consultant today.

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