Creative ways to calm children's fears in the dental chair

By Shurna Decou

Treating anxiety-prone children can be a thorny issue for family dentists. Even after a dentist’s best efforts, some children are still challenging to treat.

With this in mind, a few dentists shared some of their creative methods to win over their most challenging young patients.

Magic meatballs and other tricks

Dr. Todd Cooper, a general dentist at Tidewater Dental in Lexington Park, Maryland walks into the treatment room and says, “I am Dr. Awesome, but you can call me Dr. Todd.”

Magic meatballs is his go-to magic trick. From an array of red sponges, he asks the child to pick one. Both the child and Dr. Cooper select a sponge, and places it in their respective hands. They both close their fingers over the sponges into a fist. A moment later, Dr. Cooper’s sponge has disappeared and reappeared in the child’s hand.

“When they open their hand, they have two sponge balls, and they are amazed,” Dr. Cooper. “They were nervous, but now they are thinking something completely different and their expectations have changed.”

On any given day, Dr. Cooper could be juggling racquet balls, doing card tricks, as well as using marionettes and puppets, while maintaining a tight schedule.

dentist procedure

Blowing Bubbles

Deep breathing exercises are another effective means to calm fear and nervousness. Asking the anxious child to blow bubbles through a wand is a great way to incorporate the deep breathing which mimics the deep inhalation and slow exhalation techniques and also distracts the stressed out child. An alternative is asking the child to blow up a small balloon.

Real Animals

Some animals can offer a powerful way to soothe dental anxiety. In Gonzales, Louisiana, a dental practice has installed bird feeders outside the windows of his treatment rooms. The birdfeeders are a magnet for dozens of birds, which captivate anxiety-ridden kids.

Therapy dogs are an emerging trend in dental practices. Dentists who have therapy dogs say they have been effective in calming children ranging in age from toddlers through adolescence. Research has found that petting a gentle animal produces a relaxation response, releasing endorphins that have a calming effect.

Tattoos and Tokens

Another method employs positive reinforcement, using words of encouragement throughout treatment for “brave behavior.” With this approach, dentists can use tangible rewards such as temporary tattoos and stickers, which they give to their young patients periodically throughout the procedure. Or dentists can use tokens, which younger patients can trade in for a small reward at the end of their visit.

Learning magic tricks or bringing in a therapy dog in the dental practice may not be the creative solution for every dentist. But finding new and creative approaches to calming frightened children can be as easy as getting a tank of helium from the nitrous provider and making animal balloons.

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About Unum Group

Unum Group provides a broad portfolio of financial protection benefits and services through the workplace, and is the leading provider of disability income protection worldwide. Through its Unum US, Unum UK, Unum Poland, and Colonial Life businesses, the company provides disability, life, accident, critical illness, dental and vision benefits that protect millions of working people and their families. Unum also provides leave and absence management services that streamline the leave experience for employers and employees and stop-loss coverage to help self-insured employers protect against medical costs. Unum reported revenues of $13.2 billion in 2020 and paid $7.6 billion in benefits.


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