How to Help Children (or Adults) Who Are Afraid of the Dentist?

How to Help Children or Adults Who Are Afraid of the DentistAre you afraid of going to the dentist? Is your child afraid of dental visits? If we want our teeth and our children’s teeth to be healthy, keeping their teeth clean and cavity free is an important part of that. Regular dental visits are part of keeping teeth healthy. However, dental visits can be challenging if you or your child gets anxiety at the very mention of a dental appointment. Many times, children can pick up on your anxiety and translate that anxiety to their own dental visit.

Going to dentist need not be inherently scary. For adults, previous experiences can contribute to anxiety. Fear may seem irrational, but it is important to recognize and try to understand your fears. Fear of pain, injections, of not getting fully numb and feeling the procedure, of having the numbness for too long are legitimate and real. Fear of discomfort, of helplessness and lack of control, or loss of personal space can also contribute to dental anxiety.

For kids, dental visits can be scary because of many things. Most kids don’t like being told to sit still, and sitting in a big chair and being tipped backward with a bright light shining in their face is enough to make most kids squeamish and even induce tears. Many children don’t know what is going to happen or what will be done to them once they get in the chair. For other children, there is anxiety from being with a stranger.


The key to coping with dental anxiety is to discuss your fears with Dr Goodwin or the hygienist. Once he or she knows what your fears are, he/she will be better able to work with you to determine the best ways to make you less anxious and more comfortable. Sometimes, it is difficult to verbalize your fears. Please try to identify the source of your fear so that you can communicate better with Dr. Goodwin or the hygienist.

For example, if lack of control is one of your main stressors, actively participating in a discussion with Dr. Goodwin or the hygienist about your treatment can ease your tension. If you want to know what is being done, ask Dr. Goodwin or the hygienist to explain what’s happening at every stage of the procedure. This way you can mentally prepare for what’s to come. Another helpful strategy is to establish a signal — such as raising your hand — when you want Dr. Goodwin or the hygienist to immediately stop. Use this signal whenever you are uncomfortable, need to rinse your mouth, or simply need to catch your breath.

For many patients, watching a movie or listening to music is a way to distract you from the procedure and can help reduce your fear and anxiety. With a TV in every room, you can catch up on a movie you have wanted to watch or a series that you haven’t finished yet! Another option available to adults and children is nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Nitrous oxide can be used during the appointment to help relax them.

For patients with severe fear(s) or anxiety, Dr. Goodwin (or a nurse anesthetist) provides oral or IV sedation appointments (See Oral and IV Sedation under the Services tab on the Home page of the website or talk with a member of our staff for more information). These appointments have a higher cost due to the medications and monitoring, but for many patients they are essential for dental treatment.

So how can we help your child with a dental visit? Here are a few helpful tips to help your child’s next dental visit go a little more smoothly.


According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, an excellent way to minimize anxiety for children is to start regular dental visits before a problem like a cavity develops.

Not only does starting early with dental appointments help your child to get used to the idea of seeing a dentist, but it also helps to minimize the chance of cavities forming early on. Finding cavities early means shorter appointments and fewer dental bills. Getting your child used to regular visits can really help avoid complex and expensive treatments later.


The first tip should be a simple one. It should be an introduction; an introduction to a new place, new people and of looking at the teeth. The first visit is usually called a “happy visit” because the first visit is one where treatment is simple. As mentioned before, a first visit to our office should not involve any treatment for pain or problems.

Dr. Goodwin and his staff have a lot of experience in working with children. They are qualified to provide services for children and keep their unique fears in mind. They understand that children are unpredictable. The prize box is also a great incentive for children during their dental visit.

Another great option is a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists have two or three years of additional academic training on top of their years in dental school that train them how to treat children and their fears. Pediatric dentists usually have kid-friendly offices with prizes or treats for kids who successfully sit through a dental appointment, and even sunglasses to help dim the brightness of overhead exam lights. They may even have fluffy stuffed animals to comfort the kids during exams. For older children, incentive clubs are a great way to keep them motivated about their dental health.

By bringing in your child to meet Dr Goodwin or the hygienist before their actual first appointment, you give them a chance to establish a relationship with him or her. Your child will not be frightened by the idea of a “stranger” working on their teeth and will likely feel more comfortable with a “family friend” working on them instead.

Just having that aspect of familiarity can really help take the edge off a potentially scary dental visit for your child.


Whenever going through a new or frightening experience, it can help to have a parent nearby with a hand to hold and a soothing voice. Your child may even sit on your lap during some parts of the appointment. This can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the visit.

Your child will probably find the sound of your voice soothing and it may help to distract them from the dental work. Dr. Goodwin of the hygienist may make small talk with the child during the appointment, as this will help them to develop trust and make future appointments easier. Don’t be tempted to start asking them questions yourself during the appointment. Save those for afterwards so Dr. Goodwin or the hygienist can focus on your child.

Don’t threaten your child. Many times we are embarrassed about how our child might act in the dental office. It is tempting to translate our embarrassment into yelling or threatening your child to behave. This creates more anxiety and frustration for your child. It is best to remain calm and be patient with your child.


It might go without saying, but the dental hygienist is the one who does most of the work during a dental cleaning visit. Therefore, for each of the tips suggested above, the hygienist applies as well. It is important to help your child build familiarity with their dental hygienist. The best way to do this is to ensure they have the same dental hygienist each time and let them get to know their hygienist ahead of time so they feel more comfortable when the time comes for their dental appointment.


Most of our operatories have a TV overhead to play kid friendly shows or movies to keep kids distracted during their appointments. You may also bring headphones or earbuds to listen to their favorite music or movie on a phone.

Your child can sense if you are afraid or concerned, and it will be reflected in the way they feel. If you are showing any trepidation or misgivings about seeing Dr. Goodwin or the hygienist at all, your child will likely pick up on those fears and magnify them. Avoid scary words like “pain,” “afraid,” or “worry,” to help your child not fear dental appointments and even look forward to them.

Hopefully these tips will help make a difference in the way your child thinks about and experiences dental appointments for years to come and leads to a positive relationship both with Dr Goodwin and the dental hygienist and dental care altogether.

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