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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Show Me Your Smile

By Kimberly Blaker

Children’s visits to the dentist are often fraught with anxiety for parents and kids alike. A negative childhood experience may result in continued anxiety over routine dental care even into adulthood. Knowing how to prepare your child—and yourself—for a pediatric dental visit can help avoid unpleasant or traumatic experiences.

The Power of One

Your dentist may ask that you wait out in the lobby while your child has his or her cleaning. There’s a reason for this: Your child is more likely to cooperate if you aren’t around. So pick up a People magazine and relax. If distracting yourself with the latest Kardashian drama doesn’t keep your anxiety at bay, reassure yourself that dental office staff members are trained to make your child’s first experience fun and informative. Before performing any procedures, they will tell your child what is going to happen, which will hopefully allay his or her fears and build trust.

If you’re still worried about sending in your child alone, ask your practitioner to make an exception. If you’re not satisfied, find another dentist.

You Can’t Make Me

There are many reasons children may become fearful or uncooperative while sitting in “the chair.” A child who has had a bad past experience, is unprepared, or senses his or her parent is afraid may start to worry. Children who are ill, have a physical or mental disability, a behavioral disorder, or developmental delay may also be difficult to treat. Regardless of the cause for poor behavior, it’s important to know how your dentist will work with it.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) has developed guidelines for behavior management that include positive reinforcement, distraction, voice control, nonverbal communication, and the tell-show-do approach. These techniques are, in most cases, effective and lead to visits that end on a positive note.

When Nothing Else Works

Unfortunately, some children will simply not respond to the usual bag of tricks. When communication isn’t enough, the AAPD recommends several approaches, including protective stabilization or restraint, conscious sedation, or general anesthesia. The circumstances under which any of these methods are used depends on several factors, including the necessity of the dental work, the particular procedure, and the reason the child isn’t able to cooperate.

Conscious sedation is sometimes used to calm children and to prevent injurious movement, as is protective stabilization or restraint. Some practitioners express concern about the latter approach, though, stating that restraining a child may intensify his or her feelings of helplessness and anxiety. Finally, general anesthesia is usually used only when other methods are inappropriate, and necessary dental services otherwise could not be rendered. Whatever the situation, the AAPD points out that none of these measures should be executed without your prior consent.  

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer who has published articles in more than 200 publications. Find her at