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Fears are perfectly normal, particularly so for children. Some stem from large changes, separation from parents, or the unknown in dark shadows. A common and difficult fear faced by parents is their child’s terror of dental clinic visits. Known as dental anxiety or phobia, this fear impacts nearly one-fifth of school-aged children. Symptoms of panic may include cardiac sensations, trembling or shaking, sweating, dizziness, fainting, or paresthesias. The lattermost can be tingling, a pins and needles sensation, or a variety of numbness.

The Face of Fear

Children who experience generalized dental anxiety typically have significant anxiety while anticipating dental treatment. They cannot generally pinpoint one aspect of the treatment that is difficult. It is simply, overall, a terrible experience. These children often have difficulty sleeping during the night prior to an appointment. They can feel drained and exhausted, physically and/or emotionally, after the treatment. The fears include the procedure itself, how their own behavior will be managed during treatment and if they can handle their anxiety, any future treatment that might be required, and whether the dental staff is considering them negatively because of the state of their health and their fear.

Prepare Children with Information

Children with anxiety have a tendency to do better when predictability comes into play. They can tolerate procedures better when they know what to expect. Their parents can assist with this by giving descriptions of what the process will be like as well as what sensations might be experienced. This includes the types of noises that the child will hear, the types of vibrations might be felt, and the tastes the child will encounter. In extreme cases, it can help to have the dentist demonstrate what will happen on a parent so the child has a better sense of preparedness.

Use Relaxation Techniques

Particularly useful for children with anxiety are relaxation strategies. They slow down the child’s physical reaction to fear or anxiety about the dentist. A simple deep-breathing routine will help many children to experience relief. This involves deep inhalations followed by slow exhalations, all with proper pacing. Progressive muscle-relaxing can also help. This involves systematic tensing and relaxing of the child’s muscle groups in sequence; do this in the dental chair.