Why is My Child Afraid of the Dentist?

Why is My Child Afraid of the Dentist?

Before an appointment at the dentist, many parents are faced with the dilemma of an upset or uncomfortable child. So, how can you and your dentist help manage your little one’s concerns?

Your dentist is used to these discussions, and dental anxiety is the name for a broad spectrum of issues that affects many different families. For example, some of the common ways children may display their dental anxiety include being overly quiet, loud, questioning or shy.

Dr Angela Pu

Dental anxiety in children is a common phenomenon, and data suggests that roughly 1 in 10 children may be impacted by these feelings. It impacts children of any age, background, gender or socioeconomic status.

Causes of Dental Anxiety in Children

Children can become anxious for lots of reasons. In some cases, this may be linked to an underlying anxiety problem or personal issues that exist outside the dentist.

For other children, it may be something to do with the appointment directly. It could be apprehension before their first appointment, or a reflection of their apprehension or unease in an unknown environment.

Often, these sort of issues can be overcome by taking them for a ‘ride in the dental chair’ and demonstrating how the equipment works. This can help overcome many of the issues, such as feeling frightened under bright dental lights or from the sounds of dental equipment. While there are many potential reasons for your child’s anxiety, some of the most common include –

  • Negative experiences, such as a painful dental injury (i.e. losing a tooth)
  • Previous bad experiences at the dentist or in a medical setting
  • Discomfort with sights, sounds, smells or physical surroundings
  • Lack of trust with dental team
  • Underlying anxiety issues or fear of pain

Keeping It Positive

We recommend talking to your child about their healthy teeth and the positive outcomes of dental care. Media like TV & Books can show dentistry in a fun and healthy light. For example, ‘Peppa Pig’ has a great episode on meeting the dentist.

“In some cases, a child’s dental anxiety may reflect their parents and the way they frame dental treatment. If you talk about the ‘negative’ aspects of dentistry, such as ‘scary drills and needles’, your child will dwell on these ideas in much greater detail than if the appointment was framed by positive language,” says Dr Angela Pu.

Instead of talking about ‘needles’, ‘fillings’ or ‘drills’, we recommend explaining the benefits of a clean, healthy smile and the ways your dentist cares about you.

Tips for Your Child’s Dental Anxiety

We cover many different tips and questions on our page for Children’s Dentistry. Below, we have compiled the most relevant tips for managing your child’s dental –

Booking an Appropriate Time

An appointment time that will allow your child to come in well-rested, and aligns as best as you can with their rest and feeding times, will ensure that your child is in a more positive frame of mind.


Discussing the Appointment

Always explain any upcoming appointments to your child, and use the opportunity to paint dentistry in a positive light. These discussions about their upcoming appointments should focus on the positive nature of dental care and their healthy teeth.

Words such as ‘hurt’, ‘pain’ and ‘needle’ can seem scary, but positive words like healthy, bright, sparkly and beautiful can make caring for your smile less daunting!


Bring in their Favourite Toy, DVD or Blanket

In a setting that they feel unsure about, many children can draw comfort from objects that are familiar to them.

The best ones are those that help them associate dentistry with a safe, comfortable and friendly environment – and personal items from home can be a great choice to helping your child become more accepting at the dentist.


Inform your Dentist of Existing Conditions

Are you worried about an underlying psychological or medical condition that could impact your child’s appointment?

Please identify these with us, as we are happy to cater to the individual needs of each of our patients. We consider these needs as an integral part of the relationship between your family and our dentists.