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How (and Why) to Help Kids with Anxiety About the Dentist

children's anxiety about the dentist

Good experiences are worth repeating. That truth applies to your strategies for helping kids with anxiety in your dental office - a result that can improve your patient retention too.

Children can sometimes experience fear about their next dental appointment. A positive patient experience can increase the likelihood that they won’t dread it.


Why helping kids with anxiety about dentistry is a top priority

Aversion to dental care often begins early. Helping a child face their fears now will help assure their positive, lifetime relationship with dentistry.

Dental anxiety is simply the fear felt about seeking or receiving dental care. It’s also helpful to understand that it goes deeper than merely not wanting to go to a dental appointment.

The fear is real. And here’s why.

Anxiety is the body’s response to a perceived threat or danger. The physical changes that occur inside a person feeling fear attaches to their memory and the particular social situation.

Human beings have a unique relationship with anxiety. For example, a child feeling anxious will engage their memory and imagination to rehearse the experience.

Essentially, a child’s memory of an anxious experience can enlarge it into a potential outcome that produces fear. Whether it occurs or not isn’t the issue - the anxiety is there!

All this to say: dental anxiety is a credible issue for children especially. It could present as…

  • “Acting out”
  • Crying
  • Tantrums
  • Lack of cooperation
  • And more…


Helping kids with anxiety about dentistry starts with the potential causes


You can’t control the past experiences of your young dental patients. But you can control the current and future ones as you understand what could have contributed to their dental anxiety.


Children can feel self-conscious about their oral health as adults do. Tooth decay, bad breath, misaligned or crooked teeth, and more can create embarrassing moments for them.

Needles and “Shots” (Injections)

Kids like adults have a perception about needles. Remember, the anticipated pain associated with a shot or injection can create strong feelings of anxiety prior to a dental appointment.


The general feeling of being out-of-control is often associated with sedation. For some, wearing a mask or having their nose covered will lead to anxious reactions.


Who likes pain? Even the thought of a perceived painful experience can lead to anxiety about dental treatment.


Feeling as if a circumstance is beyond one’s control can cause panic and anxiety. Any pain that’s felt can lead a child to experience a sense that nothing will provide relief.


A long period of time since the previous dental visit can contribute to anxiety in children. It’s common to assume that more problems (e.g. cavities, etc) will be the result of not consistently visiting your office. And in their mind, that’s more potential discomfort and thus more anxiety.

The “Unknown”

Children imagine what a visit to the dentist is like. This especially follows stories they’ve heard or what they’ve gleaned from another’s negative experience.


What Causes Dental Anxiety-02


Helping kids with anxiety about dentistry restores confidence in your expertise and creates lifetime patient relationships



Be The “Right Dentist”

Parents will seek a dentist based on the collective experiences of others. Keep in mind that many search on the assumption that all dentists are alike.

The difference for you could be based on your “reputation” relative to care quality and sensitivity to patient perception - including dental anxiety.

  • Create a themed environment that’s visibly attentive to children.
  • Ease anxiety through clear communication about procedures, appointment protocols, and preliminary conversations.
  • (If applicable) talk about and promote your own family to give the impression that you understand a child’s perspective.


Communicate and Clarify

Provide families as much appointment information as possible. This helps create predictability for their child ahead of their visit.

  • Give parents/families the resources to answer questions with care and confidence prior to a dental visit.
  • Chat with the parent/family about the questions their child/children have about dentistry.
  • Clarify appointment details and eliminate any “surprises” prior to their arrival.
  • Put kids at-ease about dental care by reminding them of the benefits of good oral health habits.

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Provide a “Calming” Experience

Your dental practice environment sets the tone for a childs dental appointment. From the moment they arrive assure them that your office is a kid-friendly” place to receive dental care.

  • Manage each transition during their visit. When appropriate allow a parent/family member to accompany their child as necessary during the appointment.
  • Enhance their feeling of security by letting them bring personal items from home (e.g. stuffed animal, blanket, etc).
  • Lighten the mood by asking about their interests, hobbies, accomplishments, etc.


Creating a calming environment for helping kids with anxiety can produce a positive perception of dentistry and enhance patient retention

Outstanding patient experience for children and families begins with a kid-centric mindset and environment. Check out these related resources for upgrading, renewing, and providing anxiety-free dental visits:

5 Goals for Improving Patient Experience in Your Pediatric Dental Practice

Our Top 5 Hands-Free Waiting Room Ideas to Engage and Entertain Patients

5 Tips for Creating the Experience Parents Really Want While in the Waiting Room (But Won’t Tell You!)


Download Our White Paper: Alleviating Patient Anxiety Through Office Theming


Valuing your patients and their families sets them up for a lifetime of positive health outcomes. And the environment you create can help you achieve a better patient experience.

  • Reduce patient anxiety and enhance their relaxation
  • Prime patients and families for their appointments
  • Create positive dental care experiences

Contact Imagination Design Studios (IDS) to get started transforming your office into an anxiety-free patient experience.