Dental fear is a frequent problem in pediatric dentistry. Children’s fear of dentist comes in many forms and may be based on their general outlook towards anxiety, or other more personal things. A recent study on kids from ages 7 to 12 shows that a father’s dental fear contributes to children’s fear more than mother’s. Other factors that may cause dental fear include:
- Fear of pain or history of a painful experience
- Sight or feel of dental instruments
- Unappealing dental setting
- Recurring thoughts
- Emotions concerned with possible threats
- Socioeconomic factors
- Family relationships
- Inadequate preparation for the first dental visit
So, how can you help your little ones overcome this fear? Family dentistry Harrisburg, NC advises to implement these techniques:
Give them as much information as possible
Children, especially those with anxiety, usually do better when they have got a sense of predictability. If you tell them in advance what to expect, they are more likely to tolerate the procedure. Parents should describe to their children what will take place and what sensations the child may experience, including the noises they may hear, the type of vibrations, or what they may taste. It is also a good idea for a dentist to demonstrate the procedure on the parent. This is commonly known as the”tell-show-do” method, and it provides the child with a much-needed sense of control and predictability. Studies have shown that children assigned to a tell-show-do group had no evidence of increased blood pressure, as opposed to the increase experienced by children in the non-treatment group.
To establish a healthy relationship with the dental practitioner, a child needs to have a sense of trust and means of communication. This is why you should encourage your children to signal when they need the dentist to stop the procedure. If a child understands that signaling when they need a break is acceptable and encouraged, they will feel like they have a means of more control over the situation.
Employ relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are very useful for children with anxiety. they can help slow down the body’s physical reaction to fear. A child will experience relief when implementing a simple breathing exercise, which involves deep inhalations and slow exhalations in a paced manner. Another useful technique is progressive muscle relaxation. This involves the child tensing and relaxing groups of muscles in sequence with their eyes closed and can be done in the dentist’s chair, at home, or in the car on the way to the dentist’s office.
Use systematic desensitization if time allows
This involves gradually exposing a fearful individual to the aspect of dentistry they find frightening, while also encouraging them to use relaxation strategies to reduce their anxiety. Many children are afraid of injections, so it might be a good idea for the dentist to show the syringe to a child and explain its parts and purpose. When a child gets familiar with the object, they should be able to view hold it with little to no anxiety.
Recently, a study was conducted with children ages 5 to 17 with moderate dental anxiety where they were shown photographs for two minutes in the waiting room before their dental appointment. The study concluded that viewing positive images of dentistry, such as children smiling in the dental chair, results in short-term anticipatory anxiety reduction. This shows that age-appropriate visual exposure technique is a successful intervention tool for children with dental anxiety.
If time constraints do not allow for exposure methods, another useful technique can be distraction. A child can be reminded of recent happy experiences, such as a birthday party or field trip, and asked to think about the settings of that event while sitting in a dentist’s chair. This way their thoughts will be redirected from the procedure.
Never forget to be a role model for your child. As we have already mentioned, children experience dental anxiety due to bad dental experiences from their past, but also from experiencing their parent’s fear and anxiety. Be positive and encouraging. Be patient and explain things clearly. Your child needs to feel that you are there to support them when facing anxiety.