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At Little Smiles, we believe the power of a positive dental experience begins the moment you step through our door. Nurturing relationships with each patient as well as bringing a unique, fun energy for every appointment are important values to our entire team.

We know not every child starts their dental hygiene journey at Little Smiles. Some children (and adults) come to us with a range of experiences and may have developed pediatric dental anxiety or perceptions about the dentist along the way. This is completely understandable and something we want to address early on so we can encourage good oral hygiene habits as they continue into adulthood.

Below is a guide to discover what your child is afraid of and how you can ease their fear about the dentist so they can safely and calmly make it through regular dental checkups.

What are Common Causes of Dental Anxiety in Children?

1. Fear: Previous Negative Experiences
A past traumatic or painful dental experience may be the root of a child’s dental anxiety. Memories of discomfort or distress create lasting fear and anxiety leading up to and during a dental appointment.

How to Help: Visit the Dentist Prior to their Appointment
At Little Smiles, we call this first visit a “Chair Ride.” During this introduction, we allow them to familiarize themselves with the surroundings, meet the staff, and ask any questions they may have. We take the visit at a relaxed pace to prepare your child for their first dental cleaning appointment.


2. Fear: Lack of Understanding
When dental processes and procedures aren’t discussed enough or clearly explained, it can lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions, amplifying their anxiety. Even talking to their friends who had to get a cavity filled – who may have exaggerated every detail – could lead to developing fears of the dentist.

How to Help: Encourage Open Communication
Allow your child to express their fears, concerns, or questions about the dentist. We encourage you to validate their feelings, give them reassurance, and provide them with child-friendly explanations.


3. Fear: Pain or Discomfort
Many children worry and feel scared because they think they will feel pain when they go to the dentist for treatments.

How to Help: Roleplaying
Children learn through imitation, so playing through scenarios at home is a great way to help take the edge off upcoming dental appointments. Pretend to be the dentist and let your child play as the patient and vice versa. Use a toothbrush and mirror to demonstrate what happens during a dental examination, practice counting teeth, and then let them practice on you.


4. Sensory Sensitivities
Children with sensory sensitivities may find the bright lights, loud noises, and other commotion in a dental office overwhelming.

How to Help: Distractions
To help create a more calming and comforting environment while at the dentist, you may ask to bring noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, or sensory toys. You can even try reading a story or holding your child’s hand during their exam (our favorite is “Daniel Goes to the Dentist”).

Remember, each child is unique, and what works for one child may not work for another. Patience, understanding, and a collaborative approach with your Little Smiles dental team can go a long way in helping! For more positive reinforcement tips, check out our article on 4 Ways to Calm Children at the Dentist.