Dental fear or anxiety is a barrier for everyone, children, parents and technicians. Children's anxiety (and the resulting lack of cooperation) is one of the most important issues in pediatric dental care.

Is Children’s Dental Fear Caused by Parents?

Dental fear or dental anxiety is difficult for all parties, children, parents, and technicians alike. Children’s anxiety (and subsequent uncooperativeness) is one of the most important issues in pediatric dental care. As dental care is an important element of your child’s health, he or she needs to cooperate during treatment.

Many researchers have been looking into the causes of dental anxiety, determining why certain children experience debilitating fear, whereas others can sit through procedures with little problem. These studies observe family dynamics, socioeconomic factors, and yes, the anxieties of parents.

While pediatric dentists are trained to address children’s unique needs (and fears), there are some steps parents can take to make visiting the dentist easier. We’ll walk you through various aspects of children’s dental fear, from the effect parents have in provoking anxiety, to strategies that can help calm down your child at the dentist’s office.

Dental Anxiety in Research

Many studies have sought to investigate the link between children’s and parents’ dental anxiety. A study conducted by the University of Madrid found that one anxious family member could significantly increase the anxiety of the others, in a process called “emotional contagion.” This study found that fathers’ anxiety had the most significant impact in communicating danger to children.
A study in Gothenburg, Sweden found that out of 99 school-aged children, 45% who demonstrated problematic behaviour in the dentist’s office had a parent with similar fears.

Another research study in Hong Kong found that family structure has a significant impact on children’s dental anxiety. Children from single-parent families had significantly less anxiety than those from nuclear families. Boys with siblings tended to experience more dental anxiety than only born children.

Accompanying Kids During Treatment

Due to changes in parenting styles, more and more adults want to accompany their children in the dentist clinic. If you choose to sit with your child in the treatment room, try to maintain a calm, patient demeanor. Children will react when they perceive your anxiety because they assume there is danger.
When dealing with your child’s dental phobia, it’s necessary to be patient, even if he or she is throwing a tantrum. Remaining calm will help put your child at ease faster, whereas scolding may escalate the situation.

Some children may behave normally when their parent is not in the room, which is something to consider before deciding to sit in during treatment. Both the dentist and parent have a role in soothing or agitating the child’s anxiety. If one parent has a phobia of the dentist, whether, from general anxiety or a negative experience, it’s best to have the other parent accompany the child so that that parent’s fear is not transmitted.

What Dentists Do to Help

Pediatric dentists are trained to deal with dental anxiety in children. These Montreal dentist specialists have many strategies they use when interacting with children. Dentists can make the process easier by smiling and joking with the child, even distracting him or her by telling stories, or asking the child to solve a riddle or puzzle. The pediatric dentist also takes steps to monitor the clinic’s environment.
Some pediatric dentist offices may have a television or music playing in the background to distract the child. They might hang cartoons and kid’s posters to make the clinic seem friendlier. Some general practices have posters with graphic images of oral diseases, such as severe tooth decay or periodontal disease. Pediatric dentists will avoid having these posters in treatment rooms for children.

Pediatric dentists and dental hygienists may also wear colorful scrubs and masks. These might have familiar cartoon characters or animals on them, which allow the child to connect with his or her surroundings. As many children fear the noise or appearance of certain instruments, some technicians will give them silly names to make them seem less frightening.

What Parents Can Do

First, parents should do everything they can to remain calm. Don’t threaten to punish your child for misbehaving in the dentist’s office. Some parents tell their child they will get an injection if he or she doesn’t behave, but this associates negative feelings with the dentist, leading the child to think that dental treatments are punishment for bad behavior.

If your child is in distress, speaking in an even, a gentle tone will help them calm down faster. Try to avoid using certain words that could trigger anxiety, like “pain,” “sharp,” or “injection.” Dentists are trained to avoid these words and describe procedures in a way that makes them sound less frightening.

Don’t talk about negative experiences with the dentist around your children. This will only encourage them to develop a negative perception of the dentist’s office.

Lastly, be open with your child. Tell them ahead of time if they are going to the dentist so they have time to prepare. Try not to go into much detail if they ask questions, but rather respond with simple answers, to prevent their imagination from getting out of control.