How to Handle Your Child’s Fear of the Dentist

Kid dental check-up

It happens: kids get scared of the dentist. Plenty of factors can unease them. Anxiety from other adults or kids around them, distrust of strangers, sensitivity to the light and sounds in a dentist’s office, being conditioned by the pain from tooth decay. When dental cavities in children are five times more common than childhood asthma and twenty times as common as diabetes, many children are bound to end up in the chair of a dentist getting a cavity filled. Children's dental procedures are more common than parents think. Somewhere between 9-20% of Americans avoid getting dental care because of fear of the dentist, and that often stems from the fear that developed when they were children. But when is the fear normal and manageable for you as a parent, and when should you get professional help?

If you’re worried about your child’s seemingly extreme fear of the dentist, here are some vital signs you should pay attention to:

➤Excess sweating

➤Racing heartbeat (AKA tachycardia)

➤Heart palpitations

➤Low blood pressure

➤Possible fainting from low blood pressure (AKA syncope)

➤Crying

➤Hyperventilating

➤Nausea

➤Confusion

➤Dizziness

➤Emotional withdrawal

➤Using humor or aggression to mask anxiety

If your child exhibits any one or more of these symptoms, they may have ‘dentophobia’, or fear of dentists. Remember that children, like adults, can have vastly different reactions to stress. But if your child is having debilitating panic-like symptoms and illness before/during/after a dental visit or actively attempting to avoid a visit to their pediatric dentist office, you may want to seek therapy for your child. The sooner they can be evaluated and treated with cognitive-behavioral therapies, the easier they will transition away from their phobia.

If you think your child has a phobia of the dentist or specific dental procedures, inform their dental pediatrician before their next scheduled pediatric dental exam. A pediatric dentist has a good idea of how to soothe anxious children and reassure them, and they may have solutions for easing anxiety during children's dental procedures.

Remember that your child’s oral hygiene is exceedingly important, but so is their mental health. Treat anxieties and phobias early to preserve their oral hygiene even in their adulthood, when you can’t carry them to the dentist yourself!
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