What to Do If Your Child is Afraid of Dental Work

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There are many articles and tips online for parents whose children are afraid of the dentist. However, many of these articles address a simple check-up and may not discuss what to do if your child is afraid of getting other work done.

Does your child need a cavity filled? Do they need caps put on their teeth or a tooth extracted? Are they terrified about it? It can be scary, but there are things you can do if your child is afraid of dental work:

1. Use nitrous oxide.

Dentists use nitrous oxide all the time, and you should say "yes" to this option. Dentists provide a combination of 40 percent nitrous oxide or laughing gas and 60 percent oxygen to your child, and this allows him or her to relax during the procedure. If your child has had work before and you know that he or she is still scared even on laughing gas, look into sedation dentistry.

2. Schedule the appointment carefully.

Schedule the appointment during a time when your child isn't likely to feel rushed, as that can increase stress and anxiety. For example, don't schedule it immediately after sports or dance practice, rush through a drive-through for a snack and then hurry to the dentist.

Instead, plan a time when you can take your time to get there so that you create a relaxed and easy vibe for your child. However, don't leave too much dead time before the appointment. For children and adults with anxiety, the anticipatory period can be the worst so you don't want to drag it out. For example, if you schedule the appointment in the morning, make sure you leave ample time for your child to go through his or her morning routine but not a lot of extra time to just sit around and dread the appointment.

3. Practice anxiety reduction techniques.

If your child is anxious about dental work, he or she is likely anxious about other things as well, and anxiety reduction techniques can help. There are a number of things you can do to help a child with anxiety, from talking about fears to slowing down your pace of life and encouraging better sleep habits, but relaxation exercises are key.

Encourage your child to meditate, or help him or her learn to relax through visualization techniques. Also, consider teaching your child this quick anti-anxiety trick: "Find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste."

This simple trick helps ground your child, and if you practice it regularly, it gives your child an anti-anxiety tool he or she can use in the chair or even in the waiting room before the appointment if necessary. For example, in the chair, your child might see the fabric on the dentist's hat, a picture, the wallpaper, you and a movie screen. He or she might touch the chair's upholstery, the fabric on his or her pants, his or her hair and your hand, and so on with the other senses. This technique can be done by relatively young children, but works for people of all ages, and with practice, your child may turn to it automatically.

4. Make a recovery zone.

Set up a comfortable "recovery zone" for your child to use after the appointment. Have his or her favorite movies ready to play, download some new apps to his or her tablet or buy a few new new books. Stock the kitchen with smoothie supplies, popsicles, creamy soups or whatever soft foods your child enjoys.

If your child is able to relax after the appointment, it helps him or her create some positive memories around the situation. That can help in the future if he or she has to have more work done.

For more tips on what to do if your child is afraid of having work dental work done, contact a pediatric dentist, such as Kids First Pediatric Dentistry. They specialize in kids, many of whom have fears, and they may be able to help.