Helping Kids Conquer Fear of the Dentist

By Kenneth Mak, DDS

Dental FearMost dental visits are easy and painless nowadays, but scary stereotypes about the dentist persist. For kids who pick up on these stereotypes, fear of dental visits could lead to poor oral health well into adulthood.

Talking with your child about their fears and hesitations about visiting the dentist and working to address their concerns is an important part of parenting. Here are some tips that will help you get your kids accustomed to visiting the dentist for their regular checkup.

Start Early: It’s absolutely essential for your kids to get their teeth checked by a dentist at least once a year. To get them used to the routine of the dentist’s office, start when they’re very young. Dental experts advise bringing in your 1-year old as soon as their first teeth become visible. This helps kids feel at home when visiting the dentist, and make them associate the visits with good dental care throughout their lives.

Simplify: Keep it simple when explaining to your child where you’re about to take them and why. Don’t bother with too many details, as they will only lead to more questions and trepidation. Try to stick to the essentials and gradually ease them into the visit. Also, make sure you don’t promise them there won’t be any pain, since they may lose faith in both you and the dentist if this turns out to not be the case and they need a procedure.

Be Positive: Never use words such as “pain,” “shot” or “hurt” when describing what the dentist visit is about. It’s best to let the staff pick the most appropriate words to explain to the kids what’s happening and what they’re doing. Good pediatric dentists and hygienists are well equipped to put your child at ease about having these instruments check their mouths and scratch out so called “sugar-bugs,” or count their teeth to make sure their smiles are OK.

Prepare Through Play: Help your child get used to the initial visit by arranging a pretend visit with them before the actual day. A toothbrush is the only tool you’ll need so that you and your child can pretend to be the dentist. Don’t make any drilling sounds or painful expressions during these pretend visits. Let the kids feel relaxed about the whole thing. Make the game enjoyable for them and they’ll be more willing to follow you for their first visit.

There are also plenty of books and videos that teach kids about dental visits in a positive and appropriate way. Basically, the idea is to get kids as familiar as possible with the idea of the dentist so that they know exactly what to expect and nothing is a scary surprise.

Don’t Take Them Along to Your Visit: Taking your child along with you for your own dental appointment might seem like a good way to help them relate, but it’s not. Adult dentist offices are different from pediatric ones. And if you have any anxiety or fear about going to the dentist, they may pick up on this.

Avoid Bribing: A lot of parents bribe their kids with treats or candy after an appointment if they promise not to create a fuss, but this might backfire, making your child wonder what makes a visit so terrible that you must resort to this sort of bribery.

Explain the Need: It’s crucial that you thoroughly explain the need to visit the dentist regularly and teach your kids to take care of their teeth, so that their dental checkups are straightforward and they don’t have cavities to fill. Encourage your kids to adopt great oral care habits and they’ll be spared the suffering a lot of their less-careful friends may be recounting at school.

Kenneth Mak DDSDental technology has advanced a great deal since you were a kid, so there’s no need for your children to be afraid of a dental visit. Use these tips and find a great dentist who works well with kids and you’ll be on the right path to instilling good dental habits in your kids for a lifetime.

Kenneth Mak, DDS, practices general and cosmetic dentistry at MKD Dentistry in Downtown Los Angeles. To learn more, visit

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  1. I like the idea of playing with your kid to prepare them. kids learn best through play and actions, pretending to go to the dentist will help prepare them for the real thing. I will pass this on to my friend who is taking her kid to the dentist for the first time. Thank you for the information!

  2. I remember having an intense fear of going to the dentist when I was younger. I want to do what I can to prevent the same fear happening with my children! I didn’t realize that starting early was a good way to get them used to it. I’ll have to give it a shot! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kids these days are sometimes terrified of going to the dentist. Especially if they have had bad experiences in the past. Communicating is what has helped my kids.

  4. These are some very useful tips. I have a little one who is getting ready for their fist trip to the dentist. I like how you have said to keep it simple. I will try and explain what the dentist is with out making it over complicated. I also really like how you say not to make any promises about it being pain free. I will have to make sure I communicate with my son in simple plan language, and not make any outlandish clams about what it will be like.

  5. Thank you for all of these tips. I have one child who can’t go to the dentist no matter the bribe, but another who loves it. I think the difference really was the fact that I took the one who loves it early on. Also he hasn’t had a bad experience there yet.

  6. Your suggestion to take the child to the dentist at an early age is a great idea. The more familiar they become with an environment, they will be more comfortable during visits. It may help to make sure the first visit is a good experience so they will want to go back.

  7. My son came up to me the other day and told me that he’s scared of the dentist. Unfortunately, he has an appointment next week! I really like your tip about staying positive. Kids tend to mimic the emotions of their parents. Thanks for all the advice!

  8. I was never really afraid of the dentist. I think this is because everyone in my family followed the rule of being positive. As far back as I can remember, none of us complained or thought it was a terrible pain to go. Your statement about not bribing is a little iffy in my opinion. I didn’t have any negative feelings and the option of getting a prize actually made me like the experience even more! I think it depends on the parent. Know your child and their behaviors! If you think they will react negatively to a getting a prize after, tell the dentist to leave the option out.

  9. Thank you for the help. I will be taking my son to the dentist for the first time soon and don’t want him to fear it. I like the idea of preparing him playing about it. Would you start this a few days in advance?

  10. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to keep things simple when you explain going to the dentist to your child. I think it’s time for my son’s first visit, and I want to make sure it’s a positive experience because he tends to be nervous in new situations like this. I’ll definitely keep it simple when I explain the visit to him, and I’ll be sure to find a good pediatric dentist to take him to so they know how to properly handle children. Thanks for the great post!

  11. I think explaining why a child needs to go to a dentist is a good idea. They know that if they take care of their teeth that they won’t have any problems. You can just explain that a dentist helps to keep them clean! That is what I plan to do with my daughter.

  12. Ha ha, that is so true when you say to never use words like “pain” or “scary.” I think most of our fears of dentists are not actually natural fears but learned by people teaching us to be afraid of the dentist. If you take your kid to the dentist, tell them how fun it will be because you get a toy or sucker at the end of the visit. It will probably go over much better with the wee-little-one.

  13. I really like your tip about making sure that you don’t take them along to your own dental visit. That might freak them out a little bit. My husband and I just moved our family to a new town so we will have to keep this information in mind while we look for a new dentist to go to, thank you for sharing!

  14. I love your advice to be positive when you are taking your child to the dentist. Often, we forget that kids have a negative outlook on dentists due to simply not understanding what is going on. If you explain what is going on and are positive, your kid should have an easier time going to the dentist. And, ultimately, that will be what is best for your child’s oral health.

  15. I like your tip to play dentist at home to make the actual visits more enjoyable. I think another great thing to do is to take your child shopping for oral hygiene products. When he or she picks them out, he or she will be more excited to use them.

  16. I think all of the information you included here is really smart in helping your kids overcome their fear of going to the dentist. One thing that my aunt did that was really smart was play pretend at home and helping her kids understand what is going to happen at the office. With that being said, it is important to always be positive because negative reinforcement is never a good one. Thanks again for the help!

  17. At our dental office, Schon Dental they offer a “FYSH” School which teaches children about oral health, the dentist, pediatric dentistry and a whole lot more! I started my kids in it young and they LOVE visiting Schon Dental.

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