Easing Children's Fears of the Dentist

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

WebMD Medical Reference in collaboration with

Parents play an important role in "setting the stage" for making the first dental office visit a positive experience. Any anxiety displayed by parents will be "picked up" by the child.

To help the dental visit go more smoothly:

  1. Tell your child about the visits but limit the amount of details given. Answer any questions with simple, to-the-point answers. Let the dentist or pediatric dentist answer more complex or detailed questions. Dentists are trained to describe things to children in a non-threatening way and in easy-to-understand language.
  2. Don't tell your child that something will hurt or be painful.
  3. Don't tell your child about an unpleasant dental experience that you've had.
  4. Stress to your child how important it is to maintain healthy teeth and gums and that the dentist is a friendly doctor whose job it is to help do this.
  5. Don't promise a reward for going to the dentist.

Keep in mind that it is perfectly normal for children to be fearful - some are afraid of being separated from their parents, others are afraid of the unknown, others are afraid of being injured. A dentist who treats children will know how to cope with your child's fears and anxiety and put them at ease.

How Can My Dentist Calm My Anxious Child?

Children's fears can be expressed in a number of ways. Some children may cry, others may throw temper tantrums. Dentists use many techniques to ease children's fears, including the following behavior management techniques:

  1. Voice control. The dentist uses a friendly voice, which could become firmer if necessary.
  2. Simple instructions. The dentist will use simple words (tell, show, do) to explain a procedure and may demonstrate the procedure on a doll or another person before performing the procedure on the child.
  3. Positive reinforcement. The dentist will use praise and compliments to reward for good behavior.
  4. Distraction. The dentist will tell stories or engage the child in conversation to draw the child's attention away from the work being completed.
  5. Nonverbal communication. The dentist uses body language, such as a simple smile or frown, to reinforce positive behavior and discourage negative behavior.
  6. Sedation. The dentist may use sedation to help the child relax and be more comfortable, if necessary. The two most common types of sedation that might be used in children are nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") or an oral sedative (such as Valium).

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Dentistry.
Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD, April 2003, WebMD.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2003

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