Healthy habits and behaviors are shared between family members. Dental anxiety is no different. It affects all ages and can be passed from one family member to another. It’s also common for children to have dental caries if their parent has dental fear or anxiety. But, we come bearing hope! We’ve listed a variety of ways for you and your kids to face the dentist with confidence. Ease dental anxiety and leave the fear of the dentist behind!
EASE DENTAL ANXIETY IN PARENTS: DENTAL FEAR IS CONTAGIOUS
The first step to easing dental anxiety in your children is facing it yourself. If you experience anxiety about dental appointments, it’s important to educate yourself and other family members on how to not communicate this fear to your children.
It’s difficult for a child to draw the connection, “My parent is anxious because they don’t like the idea of going to the dentist.” It’s much easier for a child to think, “My parent doesn’t like the dentist because the dentist is bad.” Because of this, children should have no idea that their parent fears the dentist.
Luckily, pediatric dentists are trained to work with your child during their appointment. Most dentists actually encourage parents to let them do the talking. Many times, when an anxious parent or guardian tries to minimize a dental appointment to make it appear less frightening, they inadvertently end up making the child more nervous.
Because different methods will work on different age groups, we’ve divided our techniques up for easing dental anxiety. Remember, if your child generally has a higher level of anxiousness, further action should be taken to ensure they’re comfortable and confident while at the dentist.
INFANTS AND TODDLERS – SMILE HEALTH STARTS EARLY
All parents are urged to take their child to the dentist before the age of 1. This has many positive benefits:
- Your child will learn to trust the dentist from an early age, preventing future anxiety.
- They will form the habit of visiting their dentist every six months, which they will carry for a lifetime.
- And, you’re giving your child the opportunity to learn about their smile health and their overall health.
As a parent or guardian, stay positive and calm. Don’t overexcite your child about the dentist, and don’t tell them, “it’s not a big deal,” or, “it will only hurt a little.” Tone conveys stress level, and your child has been trained to pick up on your emotional undertones.
Bringing a comforting item from home can help your child feel in control of their surroundings. A blanket or favorite toy is soothing and can feel familiar and provide a distraction.
ADOLESCENTS AND PEDIATRIC DENTISTS
As an adolescent, your child should be familiar with routine dentist appointments. Are you taking your child to your dentist? Consider if that’s the best dentist for them. A pediatric dentist is trained to move more quickly and efficiently, and they’re educated in (and after) dental school on the best ways to distract and keep kids still for their cleanings.
Additionally, pediatric dentists will have offices designed with kids in mind! Colorfully painted walls, toys, and age-appropriate music can also help your child feel like the dentist office is a fun, safe place. Find a pediatric dentist near you.
Choose a reward for your child that they can have after each dentist appointment. This will create a positive pattern of reinforcement for them as they grow up and regularly see the dentist.
TEENAGERS – USE EDUCATION TO EMPOWER
Teenagers can express anxiety over the dentist office for a variety of reasons. Pain is a major contributor to their fear. They also may be embarrassed about their dental health.
If your teen resists when it’s time for a dental appointment, use education to help them become comfortable. Cleanings and procedures can be virtually pain-free today because of numbing agents, advanced tool technology, and sedation, if needed.
Talk to your teen about how they view the dentist. Chances are, there’s a misconception feeding their anxiety. If you’d don’t feel prepared to discuss this with your child, ask your dentist to. They can offer stories about other teens who’ve overcome their fear of dental appointments once they got to know their dentist.
What are their expectations? What about the dentist makes him or her fearful? You may be surprised how much talking can help.
Relaxation and breathing techniques can also be helpful at the dentist. Anxiety causes us to breathe in shorter, shallower breaths. This becomes stressful, especially when tools are taking up our mouth space. Calming this anxiety with deep, intentional breaths is an important skill that can help ease dental anxiety.
There’s no shortage of statistics about millennials and their oral health care:
- The average millennial surveyed has gone more than two days at a time without brushing their teeth at least once.
- We know that millennials are more likely to be afraid of the dentist than any other age group.
- Lastly, millennials are less likely to have dental insurance than other age groups.
Millennials make up the largest age group segment that’s not going to the dentist. The practices mentioned above for teens can also help adults, young and old, relieve dental anxiety.
Adults, and Baby Boomers
We may be older and wiser, but adults of all ages still struggle with going to their dental appointments. Dentist visits are the 5th most common fear among adults. But, mindful practices like those listed above can fix that.
Parents with anxiety over the dentist carry an additional risk of passing their fear onto their children. The negative impact a parent’s dental anxiety can have on their children has been proven. “Presence of parental dental fear and anxiety has been associated with increased occurrences of caries in children.”
Being aware of this is half the battle. If you struggle with dental anxiety as an adult, it can be difficult to maintain healthy smiles for the whole family.
SOLUTIONS FOR PARENTS WITH DENTAL ANXIETY
Consider having a grandparent or friend take your child to their dental appointment. Your child won’t see you have a negative reaction to the dentist. This will keep their experience positive, upbeat, and, most of all, personal.
Prevention and past experience are important elements when addressing adult anxiety about the dentist. Brush and floss regularly, and limit or avoid sugary foods and drinks. Additionally, if you’re avoiding the dentist because of a prior dental experience, study up on how dentistry has advanced since you last visited. With tool innovations and new technologies making an appointment virtually painless, it’s time to experience what the dentists of today can offer.
A positive, comfortable relationship with your dentist or your child’s dentist is extremely important to easing dental anxiety. Anxiety at any age can be eased when you’re comfortable with those who are taking care of your teeth.