Dental Anxiety Among Children: What You Need to Know as a Parent

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  • Dental anxiety is a severe fear or dread of the dental experience that affects many children.
  • Symptoms of dental anxiety include physical and emotional symptoms such as sweating, crying, and sleeplessness.
  • Dental anxiety can arise from several reasons, such as a previous traumatic experience or a fear of pain.
  • Parents can help manage dental anxiety by being proactive in their children’s oral health.
  • With proper guidance and support, dental anxiety can be managed and overcome.

Teaching your child good oral hygiene and regularly taking them to the dentist is essential to raising a healthy child. While most children may experience some anxiety during their visits, a severe form of anxiety affects many children known as dental anxiety. As a parent, it is essential to understand what dental anxiety entails and what you can do to help your child stay calm and comfortable during their dental visits.

Understanding Dental Anxiety Among Children

Dental anxiety is a fear or dread of the dental experience. It can manifest in various forms, including fear of dentists or dental tools, fear of needles or injections, and fear of feelings or sensations in the mouth. Such fears can be so intense that the child may become upset or panic even before arriving at the dental clinic. In some instances, it may spring from a bad experience in the past, but it can also be due to the fear of the unknown.

Symptoms of Dental Anxiety Among Children

Some of the most common symptoms of dental anxiety in children include sweating, crying, sleeplessness or nightmares, and even physical illness, such as headaches or stomachaches. A child may also refuse to open their mouth at the dental clinic or become uncooperative or fidgety during the appointment.

Reasons Behind Dental Anxiety

There are some common reasons behind dental anxiety. Here are some of them:

Dental Check up of child

Fear of Pain

The most common reason behind dental anxiety is a child’s fear of pain. Pain during dental procedures is not just physical. It is also psychological, and experiencing it can overwhelm a child’s mind.

Unlike adults with relatively thicker skin, children’s skin is thinner, so they tend to feel the pain more intensely. As a result, a child who has previously experienced pain during dental procedures may develop dental anxiety, anticipating the same sensation on their next visit.

Feeling of Helplessness

The dentist’s office can be strange and scary to a child. They can feel vulnerable lying on a bed while a stranger is poking around their mouth with metal instruments. They may also experience sensory overload since dental procedures often involve loud noises and a different smell. This feeling of helplessness and lack of control can significantly contribute to dental anxiety.

Previous Traumatic Experience

Some children may experience a traumatic experience that causes dental anxiety. The traumatic event can either be dental-related or not but it is often unrelated to the dentist. For example, a child who once fell on his face while playing soccer and required dental treatment may feel anxious about further dental procedures. Similarly, a child who once got lost in a crowded store and could not find their way back to their parents may develop anxiety in situations that are not within their control.

Fear of Separation

Children often develop strong bonds with their parents or caregivers early on. They may feel anxious about being separated from their adult during a dental appointment. This fear can cause separation anxiety, which makes a child feel unsafe or uncomfortable, leading to dental anxiety.

Fear of the Unknown

Fear of the unknown is a common type of anxiety experienced by children. Children can become anxious when faced with questions they do not know how to answer. Similarly, they can become fearful about a dental procedure they do not understand. As a result, parents’ lack of concrete explanations about the dentist’s visit may trigger dental anxiety in their children.

Ways to Manage Dental Anxiety Among Children

Thankfully, there are ways to help manage dental anxiety among children. Here are some tips that parents can use:

Dentist and teenager discussing

Trusted Dentist

It’s vital that you first establish a good relationship with your dentist. A trusted family dentist can greatly affect a child’s dental anxiety. They can explain the procedures and answer questions in language that is easy for your child to understand. Moreover, they can also provide distraction techniques to help keep your child calm and relaxed throughout their visit.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is an effective way of managing dental anxiety in children. Take the time to talk about the importance of dental visits and reward them for good behavior during those appointments. This can provide a sense of security and make them look forward to their next visit.


Let your child know what to expect during their dental visit. Explain the process step by step in simple words, and emphasize that it won’t hurt. You can also bring a comfort object for them to hold during the appointment or play some calming music through headphones to help them stay relaxed.

Building Confidence

Finally, build your child’s confidence by teaching them good oral hygiene. This will help familiarize them with the environment and make them more confident in the dentist’s office.

Dental anxiety is a complex issue that requires understanding and patience from parents. However, it can be managed and overcome with proper guidance and support. By following the tips above, you can help your child cope with their dental anxiety and ensure they stay healthy and happy.

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