How Do Dentists Handle Pediatric Patients With a Fear of Dental Work?

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    Dentist Magazine

    How Do Dentists Handle Pediatric Patients With a Fear of Dental Work?

    When faced with a pediatric patient with a fear of dental procedures, experienced dentists employ a variety of compassionate strategies. From a dentist offering choices to empower the child, to additional insights that include creating a comforting, child-friendly office environment, our collection of answers reveals a spectrum of effective techniques. Here's a glimpse into the thoughtful approaches used by professionals, alongside additional answers that contribute to easing young patients' anxieties.

    • Offer Choices to Empower the Child
    • Build Trust with a Patient-Centered Approach
    • Distract with Fun Rewards and Praise
    • Ease Fear with Tell-Show-Do Technique
    • Manage Anxiety with Appropriate Sedation
    • Innovate with Virtual Reality Distractions
    • Create a Comforting, Child-Friendly Office

    Offer Choices to Empower the Child

    Let the child maintain as much control as possible. In my experience, I've noticed that by giving the child a sense of control over the situation, they tend to feel much more comfortable. I try to do this by offering choices when appropriate, such as letting the kid choose their flavored toothpaste, picking which TV station to watch, or allowing them to take breaks during the procedure.

    Katie Orr
    Katie OrrDentist, Dr. Katie Orr

    Build Trust with a Patient-Centered Approach

    One approach that has proven successful in such situations is using behavioral-management techniques combined with a compassionate and patient-centered approach.

    One example of how I handled a pediatric patient who was extremely fearful of dental work involved building trust and rapport with the child from the moment they entered the clinic.

    I created a welcoming and non-threatening environment, taking the time to explain each step of the procedure in a child-friendly manner. I always praised and encouraged the child throughout the appointment, reinforcing positive behavior and helping them associate dental visits with positive experiences.

    Adriana Leone
    Adriana LeoneBoard-Certified General Dentist, Wall Street Dental Spa

    Distract with Fun Rewards and Praise

    To aid children who are frightened by dental procedures, dentists often create an environment filled with engaging distractions. These can include colorful murals, toys, and even screens showing cartoons, which can make the dental office seem less intimidating and more like a fun place to visit. Positive reinforcement is used to encourage children; for example, after a successful visit, they might receive a sticker or a small toy.

    This approach shifts the child's focus from the fear of dental work to the excitement of the reward. Make sure to praise your child's bravery during their next dental visit to reinforce the positive experience.

    Ease Fear with Tell-Show-Do Technique

    Dentists utilize the tell-show-do technique to ease pediatric patients into dental procedures. First, they explain the procedure in a way that the child can comprehend, using simple terms and answering any questions the child may have. Next, they show the child the tools and materials they will be using, often allowing the child to touch and become familiar with them.

    Then, the dentist performs the procedure, following exactly what was previously explained. It's a good idea to discuss the dental visit beforehand, so your child knows they can trust the dentist to do just as they've said.

    Manage Anxiety with Appropriate Sedation

    For children who experience significant anxiety or fear of pain during dental work, sedation can be a gentle solution. Sedation options range from mild, like nitrous oxide (often known as 'laughing gas'), to moderate forms, such as oral or IV sedation, which allows children to be calm and sometimes even sleepy during the procedure. With safety as a priority, dentists ensure that sedation is administered by qualified personnel and that parents are informed about the process and sedation levels.

    This helps in managing pain and anxiety effectively, making the dental experience less traumatic for the child. Encourage your child to express their feelings about dental work so their dentist can tailor the sedation to their comfort level.

    Innovate with Virtual Reality Distractions

    Many dentists are now turning to innovative technologies like virtual reality (VR) to help children overcome their fear of dental work. By wearing a VR headset, children can be transported to a different world, filled with games or calming scenes, which helps them to relax and stay still while the dentist works on their teeth. The immersive experience allows children to disconnect from the actual procedure, reducing their anxiety and creating a more pleasant experience.

    The use of VR in dental practices is not only cutting-edge but can significantly improve a child's perception of dental care. Ask your dentist about VR options for your child's next appointment to make the experience more enjoyable for them.

    Create a Comforting, Child-Friendly Office

    Dental practices that cater to children often go the extra mile to ensure that their office environment is comforting and friendly. With soft colors, playful designs, and furniture scaled to size for children, these offices can resemble a playroom more than a medical facility. The soothing decor helps to create a calming atmosphere that can significantly reduce a child's stress levels and make them less anxious about the dental work they need.

    Friendly staff characters, such as a mascot or comforting images, can also be a part of this comforting environment. Next time you're scheduling a dental appointment for your child, look for a practice that specializes in creating a soothing and child-friendly atmosphere.