Difficulty with going to the Dentist?

Managing Dental Anxiety with Children

Author: Michelle Alexander
Psychologist, MAPS, KCPsych Child and Family Team

Did you know that 10-20% of children have a fear of going to the dentist? (Taani, DQ, 2005)

Children who have fear are more likely to avoid going to the dentist and have an increased risk for cavities. Here are some strategies you can use to help your children:


1. Early prevention

Start taking your children to the dentist when they are young, preferably before there 1st birthday or when they get their first tooth.

2. Role model

Modelling healthy oral hygiene at home. Brushing twice a day and flossing. Visiting the dentist every six months. Being mindful of sharing positive dental experiences and not conveying any past negative you may have experienced as this may increase your child’s anxiety.

3. Simple communication

Speaking in a calm and reassuring voice. Avoid trying to over explain what is going to happen at the dentist. A helpful and simple explanation could be: “The dentist is going to count your teeth and look at your beautiful smile.” Avoid using words such as “pain” and “shot” when explaining dental procedures.

4. Books

Books are a wonderful resource to prepare your child for a visit to the dentist. Preferably leading up to the appointment read a child friendly book about visiting the dentist, which helps children to anticipate what will happen. One of my favourites and an award- winning book is Doctor De Soto by William Steig.

5. Child-Friendly Dental Practice

It’s important to choose a child- friendly dental practice, which has a warm and welcoming environment. A good dentist will answer your questions in an easy to understand manner and speak to your child in a reassuring and calm tone.

6. Allow Plenty of Time

Give yourself plenty of time and try not to rush to the appointment. Have a healthy snack available to ensure your child isn’t hungry before the appointment.

7. Comfort Toy & Patience

Some children may prefer to bring a toy or a comfort object from home whilst having their teeth checked. If your child is being
fussy, remember to be patient and use a calm and reassuring a tone. If needed, you may need to come into the treating room to hold your child’s hand.

What else can I do if these strategies aren’t working?

Conscious Sedation

In some instances if you feel your child is not coping with a dental procedure, you may ask about sedation or ‘laughing gas’. The sedation may assist your child to remain calm during the procedure whilst they are still fully awake. Ask your dentist for more information if you feel this may be a suitable option for your child.


If you are feeling concerned about your child’s dental anxiety, you may want to seek professional support. At KCPsych the psychologists can provide your child with cognitive behaviour therapy, which is an effective method to teach your child coping strategies to manage anxiety.

To contact KC PSYCH please call 07 3265 6320, or visit their website at www.kcpsych.com.au