Children often times have irrational fears such as monsters hiding under the bed or a specific stuffed animal that startles them. We would like to discuss the one fear we see in our office on a daily basis and that is a fear of the dentist. Even if they haven’t visited the dentist yet, a fear can still be present and a visit to a dental office can be very scary for a young child.
Dentists are not the only medical professionals a child can develop a fear of and doctors also see this issue when a child comes in for a checkup. It can take some time for a child to warm up and develop a trust of their doctor or dentist. However dentists seem to get more of a cold shoulder when it comes to children, and we feel it’s worth explaining some of the possible reasons why.
Unfortunately, parents play a big part in whether a child has a fear of something or not. Even very young children can pick up on nonverbal signs if their parents are nervous or fearful of something.
Dr. Port wrote her master’s thesis on the origin of dental fear of children and through her research clinically proved that parents are the main source of dental fear in children who have never visited the dentist before.
If you portray a fear of the dentist, your kids will likely follow in your footsteps. It’s very important for you as a parent to not make the dentist out to be something negative.
It is also important that when you return from a dental appointment that you are not moaning, groaning, and complaining of how much you fear or “hate” the dentist. We understand that this can be difficult, but do your best to hide any negative views you have of your dental experiences from your kids as it may help to prevent them from having fear of seeing the dentist themselves.
Bad First Experience
In some instances, the fear can develop after a poor dental experience. If a child has a visit with a dentist that may not have very much experience dealing with children they may not know how to provide a friendly, child centered experience. Although this is not intentional, any hint of “danger” from a child’s perspective can mean game over and make it difficult for the next dentist trying to provide care to gain the child’s trust.
Another possible reason for fear is if the child has never visited a dentist and is now in pain. If a child does not have the opportunity to have a “happy visit” which would introduce a child to the dentist, it may be scary to a child, to go into a new setting with pain and wonder, “what is this new person is going to do?”. The best way to prevent this scenario is to start regular dental appointments at age 1 or 6 months after the eruption of the 1st tooth. Part of the purpose of an age 1 dental visit is to try and provide a good introduction of the dental appointment and discuss prevention. This way the child is established with a dental office so hopefully if the child ever does have pain there will be history of “happy visits”.
In today’s world, pop culture rules all and unfortunately has a big role in portraying dentist as deliverers of pain. Cartoons on TV, child magazines, and kid oriented media poke plenty of fun at dentists and show scary dentists going after helpless children with spikey instruments and drills in hand. As a pediatric office this drives us crazy! In our profession we work so hard to make sure each and every child has the best experience possible and we don’t ever want them to associate us with pain.
For decades Hollywood has been portraying dentist as the evil twin in the medical world. Often times, movies and TV shows will have episodes making fun of the dentist because it involves painful fillings and extractions with the patient writhing in pain. The developing mind of a child watches this and unintentionally associates a dental office with a place they don’t want to be. Helping to make sure you as a parent monitor what your child watches or views on TV and online you can help prevent this poor portrayal of dentists from become how they see dentists. We are here to help your child not hurt them.
Of course there can always be other causes to developing a fear of the dentist; these are just the most common ones we see in our practice. If you have questions or concerns that your child has anxiety or fears please give our office a call. We are always here to help!