When a Child is Afraid of Going to a Dentist
Fear of going to the dentist is relatively common among children and even among many adults. In children, however, the situation is made more difficult by the fact that the patients may not understand the treatment they are receiving or that the dentist is trying to help them. Dental fear among children and adolescents can range from mild anxiety that develops in the days or hours before seeing the dentist to outright resistance that can disrupt or totally thwart the treatment process. This can lead to the avoidance of treatment and the development of serious dental problems later in life.

The Most Common Fears
Dental fears among children and even adults often revolve around the potential for severe pain or the fear of choking. Some of the tools used in dentistry, from needles to drills, can be objects of fear, with the sounds they produce perhaps more frightening than the way they look. In the case of smaller children, the fear of being alone with strangers can create an uncomfortable environment, especially considering that medical and dental providers will invade the privacy of children in a manner that is usually reserved for parents.

Dealing With Fear of the Dentist
Since fear of the dentist is usually related to negative experiences in the past, parents need to reassure their children that future procedures will be different than previous events. They may even consider changing dental providers. They can further reduce many fears by discussing with their children beforehand what to expect, perhaps even referring to their own dental experiences. There are also certain physical exercises that can be used to reduce anxiety. These include progressive muscle relaxation techniques, which involve the tensing and then the relaxing of the body, and deep-breathing exercises.

Preparing for a Dental Procedure
Once at the dentist’s office, relaxation can be enhanced if children are shown positive images that include pictures of other children happily undergoing oral procedures. The method of systematic desensitization, when employed by the providers themselves, can also reduce anxiety and resistance among children. This may involve the showing of a syringe or a drill to the child before it is actually used. Children should also be encouraged to signal the provider if a problem arises during a particular procedure. After the treatment has been given, they can be rewarded with toys or other items as a reminder that they “did well” during the procedure.

Overcoming Dental Fears
Fortunately, this type of fear generally declines as a person grows into adulthood. However, the eventual overcoming of such fear is necessary when considering the importance of regular and proper dental care. This is why parents and providers need to work together to help ensure that everyone receives the care that is needed.