From the whirring of drills to strange new smells and bright lights, the dentist office can provoke anxiety for anyone. Children especially may become anxious. Mild dislike can progress to dentophobia, or general fear of receiving dental care.

Research shows 5-8 percent of Americans refuse dental care because of fear, and up to 20 percent will only go to the dentist when necessary due to fear. Parents and dentists can help alleviate the fear for children. Erin Smith Piper, LCSW, a Baton Rouge therapist in private practice, says parents should trust their gut when managing anxiety. “No one knows your child better than you. You have to choose your path and the way that is best for your child and stick with that.”

Dentophobia may be avoided by starting regular dental check-ups at an early age so kids get used to them, and Piper says it’s important to choose a pediatric dentist. “They know the safe words to keep kids comfortable and have child-friendly activities in the office such as TVs in the ceilings. Toys and trinkets for prizes can be very helpful.”

Bringing your child to your own dental check-ups is a good idea, Piper says. “They see how simple it can be. It’s really just something we do to keep our teeth clean and healthy. If you’re comfortable and relaxed there, they’re going to feed off that.”

When your little one needs something more than a cleaning, the fear can build. Piper says again that knowing your child will help determine the strategy to work through any anxiety. “Some children really need to be talked through the process, and for others, the less information, the better.”

If the fear becomes more intense, Piper recommends working with your dentist on solutions. There are weighted blankets that can soothe a child in the chair, and experimenting with lighting and background noise can help, as well as medications.

Piper says she’s a parent first, therapist second, and she sees no problem in promising a treat for something as intense as a dental visit. “It’s best to use your common sense as a parent and don’t let anyone tell you that you should do this or you shouldn’t do this.”

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