Managing Children’s Anxiety at the Dentist

Whether you specialize in pediatric dentistry or want to make sure your family practice is child-friendly, it’s important to have a wide repertoire of techniques at your disposal to calm children when they are having dental work done. You may even find that some of these techniques also work for skittish adults.

Engage and Educate

Although it isn’t necessary to turn your entire waiting area into a playroom, having activities that engage children while they wait for their appointment can go a long way toward keeping the anxiety at bay prior to their appointment time. You can choose to go the educational route, and use the waiting time as an opportunity to explain some things about the visit and their teeth and what to expect during their appointment, or you can provide movies, games, and toys.


It’s important to address fears children might have by allowing them to talk about those fears, and by letting them know what to expect. Fully explaining what will happen during the visit gives them the opportunity to ask questions and can ease some of the fear of the unknown. Make sure they have a way to communicate with you throughout the procedure, or check in with them periodically to let them know how much longer they’ll be in the chair.

Involve Parents

Sometimes just the presence of a parent or familiar face in the exam room may help the child feel more safe and comfortable, especially if it’s their first time. Collaborating with the parent to demonstrate what will happen during the visit is an excellent strategy. You can explain to the child what will occur, demonstrate it on the parent, and then do the procedure with the child.

Parents also have a role in ensuring that children see the dentist for the first time at an early age (preferably by the time they turn 1) so children can have positive experiences from the beginning and learn that the dentist is not a place they should fear. If parents wait until a child requires extensive treatment, visits to the dentist will likely be viewed as fearful or painful events.

Using some or all of these techniques should help children manage their anxiety at the dentist. Doing so can visit more productive and enjoyable for everyone.