How to avoid dental phobia

Fear of the dentist can start from a young age and last a life time. Here are some tips and tricks to help make your child’s visit to the dentist a positive experience.

If a person develops a fear of the dentist as a young child, this so-called "dental phobia" can continue into adulthood.

The health of our mouth is crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to overall health and wellbeing,so preventing dental anxiety early on can have life long benefits. 

While your child’s first visit to a dentist may be a little nerve-racking, there’s no reason why it needs to be a negative experience.  

Bupa dentist Dr Mark Psillakis says a first visit to the dentist for a child can be as exciting as going to an amusement park.

"After all, there’s a chair that goes up, down, back and forwards," he says. 

“First appointments are usually for the child to familiarise themselves with the dentist. I more often than not manage to get the child to agree to open their mouths so I can assess the level of oral hygiene and check that there are no pressing problems that need immediate attention. 
“Practitioners with significant numbers of children in their patient base will often have toys, balloons, toothbrushes and other rewards for children that serve to create a bond and ensure the child is happy to return. I often inflate a glove and have the child draw a face on it – that serves as an effective ice-breaker.”
child snuggling with mother

Tips to help your kids have a happy first visit to the dentist

  • It can be helpful for children to see older siblings in the dentist chair during a non-invasive check-up and clean appointment first – so long as the sibling is calm and relaxed. If that child has "dental phobia" already, perhaps start by letting children watch their parents have their teeth cleaned. Lead by example. 
  • Children may feed off their parents' energy, so if you're relaxed and happy, they may be too. 
  • Bring things for the child to play with or something to distract them if needed.
  • Consider offering little rewards to your child after their visit as positive reinforcement. This might be in the form of a fun colourful toothbrush or a toy.
  • Always prepare the child in advance, and with excitement, about going to their first dental appointment. They should be reassured about how much fun it is.
  • Be sure to make the appointment for a time of the day when your child is relaxed and happy – a tired child is often a miserable and uncooperative child.
  • Choose a dentist who is happy and comfortable treating children and prepared to spend the time needed to make your child relax. 

What happens during the early years in a dental chair can have a significant impact on your child’s dental journey throughout their life. So it’s important for you to keep calm and encourage your child to stay positive.  

“Keep in mind that phobias are learnt responses and this being your child’s first appointment, they have not experienced anything unpleasant at the hands of a dentist. It is important that young children aren’t exposed to anxieties that our life experiences may have caused,” Dr Psillakis says.

Find your nearest Bupa Dental clinic here, open to everyone, not just members.

Up next: five tips to make toothbrushing fun 

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