For many people, children and adults alike, the thought of going to the dentist causes their hearts to race with fear. Children who fear going to the dentist may develop stomach aches just prior to dental appointments or create excuses to avoid appointments. Once in the dentist’s office or chair, these anxious kids may act out, throwing tantrums that make it extremely difficult, or even impossible for the dentist or hygienist to complete even a simple cleaning.
If you are the parent of a child with such a fear, it might be helpful to ask your child about what, precisely, he or she fears. Is it a fear of potential pain? Is this fear applicable to visits to all medical professionals? Is it a specific fear of the sound of a drill or the potential to gag or even vomit during the exam? Once you have a clearer understanding of what your child fears, you will be able to help calm him or her by educating him/her about what really happens during routine dental visits.
Going to the dentist should not be a frightening experience. In addition to educating children about what to expect when they go to the dentist, parents should be empathic yet firm. Let your child know that many people, maybe even yourself, have similar fears, but routine check-ups do not hurt and are necessary to ensure healthy teeth. If you or your child has an extreme fear of going to the dentist that cannot be easily resolved through discussion and understanding, the fear can typically be eliminated quite quickly and easily with professional assistance. A cognitive-behavioral psychologist is trained to help people learn relaxation techniques to calm themselves down, then gradually face their fears in a safe environment.
Going to the dentist should not be a stressful or anxiety-provoking experience for you or your loved one. Gain control over your fear and let your bright smile shine through!
Trina Zilla, Psy.D.
Dr. Zilla is a cognitive-behavioral psychologist with a private practice in Wellesley, specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders.