I just did a post on Talking About Men’s Health about how not brushing teeth enough can lead to gum disease, which in turn can lead to erection problems. At least some of the reason men (and women) have less-than-ideal dental hygiene is that they’re afraid of going to the dentist. Unfortunately, they often pass those fears on to their children. In this guest post, Jon Engle give us some advice on how to help our kids (and probably ourselves) overcome those fears.

There are many things – good and bad –  that children inherit from their parents. According to a recent study published in a prominent industry journal, fear of the dentist is one of those.

Scientists at Spain’s Rey Juan Carlos University studied 183 children in Madrid, age 7 to 12,  along with their parents, and found that fear levels among mothers, fathers and their kids are interconnected. The researchers found that fathers play a pivotal role when it comes to those fears being transferred from mothers to their children, since dads act as a key mediating factor.

“Although the results should be interpreted with due caution, children seem to mainly pay attention to the emotional reactions of the fathers when deciding if situations at the dentist are potentially stressful,” said researcher America Lara Sacido, writing in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry.

The authors conclude that getting kids not to dread the dentist’s chair means involving mothers and fathers in fear prevention, and making sure dads come to the dentist with their children and show no signs of fear or nervousness.

Parents can also work with dentists to make the experience less stressful. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry:

1. Avoid drop-offs. – Resist the temptation to run errands while your child is in the chair, and stay at the dental office. Knowing that Mom or Dad is nearby is reassuring, and the dental team may need to obtain consent or provide instructions to a responsible adult.

2. Reassure, but don’t interfere. – Be a silent observer, and let the dentist build rapport with the child as a trusted coach. Parents might consider holding the child’s hand or letting the toddler sit in Mom or Dad’s lap during the process. Otherwise, stand or sit in a location where the child knows you are near, but avoid giving worried facial cues that could upset the child.

3. Tell, show, and do. – Among many methods that pediatric dentists use in dealing with young patients, parents can expect the professional to explain treatment in age-appropriate terms, then show the child the procedure in a simplified manner. Finally, the actual treatment is performed without deviating from the explanation.

4. Praise cooperation. – The parent can join the dentist in offering positive reinforcement – praising and rewarding the child for behavior that helps the treatment proceed smoothly. The mantra in many pediatric dental offices is that every child does something right during the visit.

5. Welcome distractions. – Kid-friendly dental pros have ways to take patients’ attention away from things that are unpleasant. The dental team uses words carefully when describing treatments, finds ways to pass instruments out of the child’s sight to avoid intimidation, and deploys diversionary tactics ranging from conversation and music, to movies and video games.

6. Speak up about voice control. – Pediatric dentists can change their voice tone or volume to calm a child or get the patient’s attention. Speaking in a soft, controlled tone, and repeating messages as necessary, has been found to be useful. Some dentists advocate a loud tone when needed to discourage disruptive actions by the patient – for instance, reaching for a sharp instrument that can cause injury. Parents should observe the situation, and speak to the dentist afterward if they are not comfortable about the tone deployed.

7. View some model behavior. – If parents are willing, some dentists allow children, before their own procedure, to observe another “model” patient undergoing a positive dental visit. The child might be less nervous after watching a parent or sibling getting treatment, or maybe viewing a video showing someone their own age in the dentist’s chair.

8. Help with stabilization. – In some situations, parents may be asked to keep the young patient from moving during treatment, in order to prevent injury and allow treatment to be completed safely for everyone involved. That might involve holding the patient on her lap with arms hugging the child. The dentist might also use a body “blanket” that holds arms and legs still, and away from the mouth. These methods are usually deployed only after other behavior guidance methods have been considered.

9. Consider sedation options. – Parents should discuss with their dentist the different medication and sedation methods available, as well as special monitoring equipment used to protect patients. Sedation can help increase cooperation and reduce anxiety and discomfort associated with some dental procedures, and prevent injury by helping children stay still around sharp or fast-moving instruments. The child is relaxed but not asleep, and the pediatric dentist selects a medication and dosage based on the patient’s overall health and anxiety level.

10. Weigh pros and cons of general anesthesia. —  This is most often recommended for young patients with extensive dental needs, who otherwise can’t tolerate necessary treatment. In practical terms, patients are asleep and can’t respond to touch or voices during procedures under general anesthesia. Parents should know that kids face the same risks under general anesthesia for dental treatment as they would for any other surgical procedure. Treatment should be provided only by highly qualified professionals with advanced education in anesthesiology, in settings with proper monitoring and emergency equipment.


This is a guest post by Jon Engle. To find a Chattanooga dentist or find a dentist office in your area, consider Castle Dental with over 400 affiliated dental offices throughout 18 states. Learn more!