Tag Archives: dental fear in children

Is a Pediatric Dentist or General Dentist Better for a Special Needs Teen?


I recently became a foster parent to a teen with special needs. He just wants to be treated like everyone else, so I’m not sure which dentist to take him to. he’s not a child, so he may balk at a pediatric dentist, but I think they may be more patient with him. I’m worried he may be nervous if I take him to a general dentist’s office, and the staff may not be used to treating patients like him.

Which should I go to? Any advice?

Elizabeth, from Raleigh, NC


Hi Elizabeth,

Your worries are valid and echo a lot of concerns shared by parents of special needs children and teens.

Either dentist will be able to accommodate your teen. A pediatric dentist is a dentist who has had additional post-graduate education pertaining specifically to children’s oral needs. Be sure to check your prospective dentist’s credentials, and feel free to call the dentist’s office with questions. Most pediatric dental offices will treat toddlers or young children in addition to teens. Dr. Peck in Phoenix, AZ has dental tips for parents on her website for what parents can expect for children at the dentist.

However, you should involve him in the decision-making process. Ask him where he would like to go, and check websites together. To make him feel more comfortable, see if you can schedule a walk-through of the office prior to your appointment, so he knows what to expect. If you have a dentist’s appointment coming up, invite him along to show him its no big deal. Little things like these can make a big difference when it comes to your child’s treatment.

This blog post is brought to you by Phoenix pediatric dentist, Dr. Hillary Peck, of Peck Family Dentistry.

Is Sedation Dentistry Necessary For My Child?

My daughter is eight. She is a sweet, cooperative little girl, and generally healthy. We have maintained consistent dental habits, which include flossing and using mouthwash daily. She was recently diagnosed with a cavity at her last dental checkup.

When we returned to the dentist office for the cavity to be filled, she seemed a bit fidgety. It was as if she couldn’t get comfortable, and was nervous. This wasn’t surprising, as this was the first dental procedure she’d undergone. Therefore, I decided to leave the room, thinking my presence was causing her to be additionally worried, as sometimes has happened with her.

After some time had passed, I assumed everything was going smoothly, until I heard her screaming. When I rushed into the exam room, I found her curled into a ball on the table, unable to be consoled by the dentist or his assistant.

The dentist exited the room, to give me an opportunity to calm her down. When I asked the assistant to tell me what happened, she informed me that my daughter had clamped down on the dentist’s hand when he was trying to numb her, biting him, then began flailing and flinging her arms and legs. This also caused her to bite down on the drill, which cracked his tooth.

The dentist returned to check in on my daughter, but mentioned to me that a pediatric dentist may be a better fit.

I am concerned about the trauma this caused her, and what to do going forward. She is now in need of a crown, and I want to be sure this situation does not repeat itself. Should I consider sedation prior to her next procedure? I know very little about it, or its possible side effects, but know that my daughter cannot have another experience like this one.

Any guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.


Dear Janice,

It is unfortunate that your daughter went through this experience, especially considering she had several positive dental visits prior to this one.

It is good that your dentist suggested you find see a pediatric dentist, especially since she now has further damage, and has experienced such trauma. Perhaps you could schedule a routine checkup for your daughter with a pediatric dentist first. This way, she can learn about the dentist, become familiar with the office, and understanding what goes into a child’s first visit to a dentist.

Once she has a positive experience with the dentist, you could schedule a follow-up appointment for the crown procedure. And, you are correct, sedation dentistry may be the best option for her. But, dental anxiety is best addressed by communicating with your dentist. Perhaps you can privately share about her previous dental experience. This way, the pediatric dentist can help you determine if sedation dentistry is the route you should go, or, if there are other ways to address her nervousness and anxiety.

The right choice will ultimately depend on what types of sedation the dentist offers, as well as what you feel is the best fit for your daughter.

This blog post is brought to you by the office of Dr. Matt Roper, a Gilbert sedation dentist.

How do pediatric dentists treat children who won’t cooperate?

Many dentists enjoy treating children, even children who are somewhat difficult to treat. They enjoy them, have fun with them, and find fulfillment in focusing on the children and helping them receive the care they need and deserve. However, even if a parent does all he or she can to prepare a child for their appointment, one of the biggest obstacles in treating children is their movement. Some children will not lay still.

Methods for Controlling Child Movement During Dental Procedures

One way a dentist could attempt to control movement is with the use of a mouth prop, called a molt mouth gag to prevent the young patients from biting down during a procedure, and causing further pain and damage.

photo of a mouth molt gag
Mouth molt gag

However, some children are more difficult to control and need more restraint, in order to treat them effectively and safely. Even with multiple attempts to calm them down, some children still throw their arms and legs, risking their safety and preventing treatment. For these children, parents will be asked for permission to physically restrain their child. When permission is granted, the dentist may wrap the child in a papoose, and then complete the treatment.

Child in dental office wrapped in papoose

The papoose technique is not meant to be harmful, traumatic, or mean. It is only used on incredibly strong-willed children who refuse to lay still, thus making it impossible to treat them safely. It ultimately allows the child to calm down.

When the successful treatment is complete, the child will be congratulated, often given a chance to pick a toy or treat from the prize box or treasure chest, and walk away feeling good.

This article was provided by the office of Phoenix pediatric dentist Dr. Hillary Peck.


How to prepare for a child’s first dental appointment

We have scheduled our 5 year old son for his first dental visit. He is very shy and quite apprehensive to people he isn’t comfortable around. Are there are specific ways we can prepare him so he will not be afraid?

Thank you,

Dear Brooke,
It can definitely be stressful to take your child to the dentist for his or her first time. However, there are many things you can do to make the experience a fun and teachable one. The biggest thing to remember is that if you are stressed or anxious, he will feel that. Try not to say things like, “Don’t be afraid,” “It’s not scary,” or “It won’t hurt,” when you discuss the dental appointment. Be sure to remember that any negative dental experiences you have had are your experiences and not necessarily indicative of the type of experience he will have. Talk about the appointment like it is a natural thing for him to do, but show excitement about it being his first appointment, like you would his first haircut. It is a great idea to let him come along with you to one of your appointments, so he can become familiar with the office, the staff, and the routine. If this is not an option, or you are using a new office, call ahead to to find out what you can expect, or visit the office’s website, in order to talk with him about it. Read books about going to the dentist, or watch cartoons. You could also role play at home, first with you playing the dentist role, then switch and let your son be the dentist. But, again, the most important component in this is to build-up the experience as a positive one.

It is also a good idea to try to schedule a morning appointment, so he can be well-rested and have had a good breakfast beforehand. Be sure to arrive to your appointment somewhat early, to allow your son a chance to become used to the office. If, by chance, your office does not allow parents to accompany children to the exam room, you should be aware beforehand to decrease his anxiety about this. However, if you are able to go back, snap a photo of her being a good patient and cooperating.

Many offices give children toothbrushes and other goodies such as balloons or tokens when they are finished. If the dental office does not provide these, it’s a great idea to have a toothbrush and small toy or reward to give him at the end of the appointment. You just want to be sure to reinforce the good behavior.

Also, please remember, if the visit is not as positive as you hoped for, and practiced for, don’t fret. Many children take time to become comfortable to new places and things. It will be good to have already been in the office and provided the experience. Then, try again after a few months. Good luck!

This post is sponsored by the office of Phoenix pediatric dentist, Dr. Hillary Peck.

Why won’t my daughter’s dentist use fluoride varnish?

Our previous pediatric dentist painted something on our daughter’s teeth, instead of using fluoride trays. We were thankful for this because it prevented the nasty taste that comes along with the trays.

Unfortunately, we had to change dental offices, for insurance reasons, and our new provider uses the trays. When I worriedly asked the hygienist, I was assured that this was a new foam version, with a better taste.

Well, my daughter hated it! She spat it out immediately and began crying hysterically.

When I asked about the painted version, used in our previous dental office, I was told it was “too new” and they don’t stock it. Was the painted version an experimental treatment used on my daughter? I am also now worried about how future dental visits will go.

Thank you,

Jen Smith

Dear Jen,

In regards to your question about the painted fluoride treatment, please rest assured that the varnish method is not experimental. It has been recommended by the American Academy of Dentists since 2006. It is the preferred method for children because it is easy to apply and tolerated much more positively by kids.

However, some dentists are resistant to change, even regarding something like fluoride varnish that has been successful for over a decade. The foam you are referring to is also safe, effective, and trusted, but the varnish is a more favorable option for children. It seems the choice to use the foam method is being made by personal preference, and your dentist should not have advised that it was “too new” or untrustworthy.

In regards to your question about your future dental visits being scared, please keep in mind that if you are fearful or nervous, your daughter will see this and feel the same. Dental trauma and anxiety can be difficult to overcome. If you are ever nervous or questioning a treatment that your child is receiving, try not to let this show on your face. If possible, ask to pause the treatment and speak to the provider in private, so as to not alarm your child. This will allow you to, hopefully, get your questions answered, and feel calm and confident going into the treatment, which will, in turn, help your child to feel the same and have a positive experience with her pediatric dentist.

This post is brought to you by the office of Phoenix pediatric dentist, Dr. Hillary Peck.

Is It Normal For Children to Freak Out About Cavities?

My son has always gone to the dentist just fine.  He’s even looked forward to the appointments. This last visit was a disaster. We found out he has a cavity. The dentist offered to fill it right then. That’s when everything fell apart. My son started screaming, went limp, slid out of the chair, and fled the room. Is this normal? I was mortified.

Sadie M.

Dear Sadie,

Pediatric Dentist

There could be a few things factoring into this.  First, it doesn’t sound like your dentist is skilled in working with children. Most children don’t do well when an unexpected medical treatment is suddenly thrust upon them.

He would have been better served if the dentist talked to him for a minute ahead of time to let him know what a cavity means and how easy it is to treat, in terms he could understand.

Talk to him about what he thought was going to happen. He may have heard a false horror story at school about what happens when you have a cavity at the dentist.

Maybe the dentist pulled out the needle for the anesthetic. That long puppy could scare a navy seal.  Dentists who work with children know ways of keeping that out of sight.

Sometimes children just can’t handle the idea of the needle anesthetic. Most pediatric dentists also offer sedation dentistry. This helps relax children. In fact, many of them completely sleep through the entire procedure.

I hope this helps.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Kevin Peck.