How To Prep Your Anxious Children to Go to the Dentist

Written by Dr. Brian Harris

March 30, 2021

dentist checking his patient


Visiting the dentist is important not only for you, but also for your children. Taking them to the dentist for regular checkups can make a world of difference and will keep your teeth healthy and strong for a long time to come. It is important to get your child to the dentist on a regular basis as early as possible. But for some children, as well as some adults, visiting the dentist is enough to make them feel very anxious.

For some kids, just hearing the word dentist is enough to make them get anxious and feel bad. You care about the oral health of your child, but you may feel bad about forcing a scared and fussy child into the dentist chair. You may feel bad as their parent and worry about all the work that will bring on yourself.

If you want to get your child into the dentist and are worried about how they will cope and do while there, then follow some of these simple steps to make the visit more enjoyable for everyone while helping improve the smile of your child.

Start with Dental Visits When They are Young

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, parents should take their children to the dentist as soon as their first tooth appears and no later than their first birthday. Taking them to these appointments when they are young is not only beneficial to their dental health over the long-term, but it can help them to become more familiar with the dental office and what they can come to expect when being there.

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Most children who start going to the dentist at an earlier age have less anxiety about the whole process compared to those who may not visit until they are much older. The younger child may be a little nervous, but they learn quickly that it is safe to go to the dentist and their fears are gone in no time. Those who wait until they are older will often have more anxiety because they are not familiar with the dental procedures and may worry about what will happen when they are there.

Teeth Proper Dental Hygiene When They are Young

The earlier you teach your child how to properly take care of their teeth, the easier it is to help them not feel anxiety about visiting the dentist. This includes regular teeth brushing and flossing to keep the teeth shiny and new. When the teeth are well-taken care of, there are less likely to be issues when the child visits the dentist and they will have less to feel anxious about.

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Teaching your child how to properly brush their teeth is an important step as well. This needs to be done at least two times a day to keep the teeth healthy and bright and to make sure that they do not get cavities or other issues that would need extra care when you visit the dentist. Our Whitening Toothpaste is a great option to choose to help keep the teeth clean and bright or another kid-approved flavor can do the trick as well.

Flossing is an important part of the puzzle too. There are many different types of floss available to try. Perhaps consider some that have a unique flavor that your child will enjoy to ensure they will give it a try and not feel scared. If you would like to help your child clean and whiten between each of their teeth every day, then try out our Charcoal Floss too!

Play “Dentist” At Home

Before you decide to take your child to the appointment, do a little bit of role-playing with them. You and your child can have a pretend dentist visit and see how things go. You can let your child role-play as they pretend they are checking and cleaning out your teeth, and you can do the same thing with them. Do this a few times, answering any questions that your child may have about the situation.

This is pretty simple to set up. With a mirror, chair, and toothbrush, you are able to set up a pretend dental visit inside your own home. You can then walk your child through what the procedure would be like when they really visit the dentist. From there, you and your child can take some time to practice some of the pretend procedures, like cleaning and counting teeth on each other and on their stuffed animals.

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Let your child take the lead on this one a little bit. Let them ask questions and play the way that they like. You can take the lead a little bit to get things started and explain how things are meant to go. But overall, let them have some freedom to explore and see what will make them more comfortable when they head to their appointment. The more they can act this out and learn about the whole situation, the less likely they will be to have anxiety about the appointment.

As you are playing dentist at home, you may want to help your child learn about staining of the teeth and what this will look like when they do not properly take care of their teeth at home. The Snow Shade Guide can help to showcase the different shades that the teeth can be, helping your child learn what is normal and encourage them to take better care of their teeth.

Build in the Comfortability

Before you take your child to the dentist, try to find ways that they will feel more comfortable about going. For example, you can start with the clothing that they want to wear. If there is a special outfit that makes them feel better or something else that will help them feel good, then let them wear that. Even if it is that silly princess dress that you only let them wear around the house. Or if they want to wear a cape to the dentist, then let them do it. This small thing can make a big difference in how comfortable they feel when they are ready to head off to the dentist.

In addition to the types of clothes that your child likes to wear to be comfortable, consider what else you may want to bring along to help them feel good when going to the dentist’s office. For example, if they have a blanket or a favorite stuffed animal that makes them feel good and they like to hold, then bring these along. When they are really young, there is nothing wrong with adding these to the dental visit and the right dentist will know how to handle using them. As your child starts to get a bit older, they can bring this item in the car but should leave it there, to help them become braver on their own.

The goal here is to make sure the child is as comfortable and relaxed as possible. That little extra thing may be just what they need to go to the dentist without feeling as nervous or upset as before. It is such a small thing, but for some children, it can help them to face their fears and then learn that they really do enjoy the dentist and there is nothing for them to be worried about when they go.

Read Dental Storybooks to Them

reading dental storybook to child

A fun activity that you can do with your child to help them handle going to the dentist is to read dental storybooks with your child. This can help to eliminate the fear and may even be enough to help your child feel more excited about going to the dentist. Use simple picture books to make this a little bit easier.

Through these storybooks, you can teach your child what will happen during the dental visit. And it often seems friendlier and easier to work with when the story is done in colorful illustrations and easy-to-understand language as well. There are many great storybooks out there about visiting the dentist, so consider getting a few of these to help alleviate some of the anxiety that your child may be feeling.

Stick with Positive Words

parents playing with their baby


Another thing that you need to be aware of when taking your child to the dentist is the type of words that you choose to use around them. You should avoid using different words that have a negative connotation behind them like “shot”, “hurt”, or “painful” when you talk about the dental visit. If you are uncertain about which types of words to use when describing the dental visit, then talk to some of the dental staff ahead of time. They can give you some ideas about the comforting and safe words to use in this situation.

For example, you could simply tell your child that the dentist is going to check their smile and count their teeth. That is all that you have to tell them. You can even go through and talk about how the dentist helps them to have clean, strong, and healthy teeth to make them more excited about the visit and meeting the dentist.

Communication is important when taking your child to the dentist. You do not want to spring it on them that you are heading to the dentist as you pull up to the parking lot. But this is hard for many parents to do because they want to make this a pleasant experience and they are not sure how to get started. Let your child have some time to mentally prepare for the appointment. Keep them informed about the visit in advance and then remind them as the appointment day approaches.

You can choose which details that you would like to share and let them know they can ask any questions to the dentist once you get there. Any questions that you do answer should be given in a straight-forward manner to help make things easier and keep the anxiety away.

Visit with a Pediatric Dentist

If possible, it is often best to work with a pediatric dentist rather than a regular dentist, especially for the first time with your child. When you are dealing with the dental health of your child, the pediatric dentist will have more experience on how to help reduce any fears and can make your child feel better overall.

These dentists will have two to three years of specialty training after they are done with dental school. This helps them to focus completely on treating children only. Working with dental staff who know how to handle your child and any anxiety issues that they have can make it a more positive experience for your child. Plus, most of these pediatric dentists will be affiliated with pediatricians and other child specialists so you can have access to a whole network of healthcare professionals to help you take care of your child.

Stay Calm, Even When Your Child Is Not

It is normal for your child to feel uncomfortable having their mouth looked at by a stranger. You may expect that they will wiggle and fuss a little bit. Your goal here is to remain as calm as possible during it. They may end up throwing a fit in the dentist’s office.

Do not feel ashamed by this; all dentists have seen these tantrums before and most will not be upset by them. It’s a normal thing. The staff can give you some pointers on how to help your child feel more comfortable during the procedure so that the work can get done and they can enjoy a healthy and happy smile.

It is important to visit the dentist’s office to help take care of your child and to give them the healthy teeth and gums that they need. With the tips above, you can make sure that your child has healthy teeth and can take care of their mouths and teeth along the way.

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