Children with dental phobia

Help and information to support children with worries about the dentist
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Real stories: Evie’s experience

Evie has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which means she can get quite anxious about visiting the dentist. Before getting her braces fitted, the Bupa Dental staff spent some time with Evie. Evie asked questions about the procedure, and the staff gave her the support she needed, helping her feel more at ease.


How long will you have your braces for?

Two years.

Did the staff make you feel comfortable?

Yeah, especially India.

How often do you have to go to the orthodontist?

Every eight weeks.

What is your favourite drink?

Prime is my favourite drink.

Did the orthodontist talk you through what was going to happen?

Yes, they did.

What is your favourite tornado?

The Tri-state tornado.

What is your favourite animal?

My favourite animal is an elephant.

What is your name and how old are you?

I am Evie and I'm 12 years old.

Can you choose the colour of your bands?

Yes, and I'm going to get silver, a gold, and then rainbow

after that.

Do they have to tighten your braces?

Yes they do.

They do it every eight weeks,

but you get to pick lots of fun colours.

Did it hurt when you had your braces fitted?

No, but it did a little bit afterwards.

You just need to take a medicine like paracetamol

or something.

Do your braces hurt all the time?

They do every now and then, but

It will just ease off.

Do you look forward to going to the orthodontist?

Not always, but it's always fine when I get there.

Were you nervous when you first went to the orthodontist?

I was, but then they reassured me

and walked me through what was happening.

What is the walking man tornado?

It is a tornado that has little cyclones coming out of it,

and it looks like it's walking.

Can you tell me a joke?

What's the best time to eat bacon? Friday!

What did the team at Total Orthodontics do to make you feel comfortable?

The way they reassured me

and how they did it at the pace that I was comfortable with.

What is in your hands?

This is Johnny the Orange for ADHD.

It makes me feel good because it feels really squidgy.

What advice do you have for anyone that may be feeling anxious?

The orthodontists aren't scary.

You just need to ask them if you need it at your own pace

or if there's something you need done

to help you, just ask.

Why are children scared of the dentist?

Help and advice for parents

Hear from Evie’s dad, Pete, about how he and our dental team made Evie feel comfortable.


Who are you?

I'm Pete Birch, area manager for Bupa Dental Care

and dad to Evie.

How did you choose the right orthodontist for your daughter?

That predominantly is decided by Evie and how she reacted.

So when she first met her orthodontist,

I knew that wasn't the right one.

So I knew we had to find one that she was comfortable with.

What did the dentist do to reassure you that they were right for your daughter?

For me, the orthodontist made me

feel comfortable as a father.

The moment I saw Evie relax,

you can see it in her shoulders, see it in her face.

She engaged with Evie.

She made Evie part of the appointment, part of the journey,

and if anything, left me out.

And that for me was brilliant,

just watching Evie interact

and finally want to be part of it.

How nervous does Evie get before an appointment?

Evie can get really nervous.

It's obviously anxiety,

it's part of her ADHD, part of her autism,

and it can be even a positive event.

So it can be a party, it can be something

that she's wanting to do.

And it can also be dental appointments.

It can be doctor's appointments,

and she will work up an idea of what it's meant

to be in her head, and that can just be overwhelming

for her.

Does your daughter look forward to going to the orthodontist?

Yes and no.

So when she's prepared, when she knows what colour bands

that she's going to have next, she's genuinely excited.

We've had four appointments so far,

and we've only had one where when we arrived, she

absolutely did not want to attend that appointment,

which is still a huge difference to previous experiences

of getting Evie to appointments.

Was the interaction with you or your daughter?

The interaction is very much with Evie, so obviously

as her parent, I have to be involved in some of it,

but predominantly it's about talking to Evie first

and then me second if needed.

But it's with Evie, it's watching Evie look India

straight in the eyes, who's the orthodontist,

and just seeing her being ready for the next steps,

being talked through what's happening.

Did you just go with the first orthodontist saw?

No, the first orthodontist that Evie saw

pretty much treated her like any other patient,

wasn't necessarily wrong,

but wasn't interested in Evie,

so was just ruder in the face,

measuring up, checking her teeth.

Didn't really engage with Evie,

and I could see Evie's face, her reaction, her body language,

that says this isn't the orthodontist for her.

So I knew that we had to find a one that she was comfortable

with so that we could get her to all of her appointments.

What was important for you when choosing the orthodontist?

For me, the most important criteria was

who Evie felt comfortable with,

and that didn't matter to me,

therefore, distance, price within reason,

and it didn't matter how convenient

or inconvenient it was for me as a parent to get her there.

If I knew that I had to travel far,

but was guaranteed that when Evie got there,

she felt comfortable to engage

with the appointment and take part,

that was the most important criteria.

How important was it that they communicated with your daughter rather than you as a parent?

It's huge.

I guess there are always points within this journey

that a parent has to be involved,

but through what's happening to Evie, what Evie's going

to have to participate in, it's really important that

that's directly put to her.

And again, that was never needed to be directed

or prompted by me.

I never had to bring Evie into the conversation.

If anything, I would have to insert myself just to be nosy.

Did the experience ever feel rushed?

Only in the first appointment.

So the first appointment that we had originally with

who we were referred to,

it was very much just we had a appointment time,

a chair to sit in

and we needed to be out for the next patient.

So the experience for us wasn't about us,

it was about getting ready

for the next patient and the next patient.

So it very much felt rushed, which is why

it was really obvious that Evie wasn't part of it.

Evie was just the product, the who we are going

to give a brace to.

What was your experience like booking your initial appointment?

So with booking the initial appointments,

it's done almost on your behalf.

So through a referral pathway,

you are just advised when the appointments are,

that they contact you, you just agree to the dates.

When we knew we needed to take control of this following

that first referral, it was really easy.

It was finding out where we wanted to go, who we needed

to see, and we would just make contact

and the appointments were what worked for us.

And again, huge difference.

Did you always know what options were available to Evie?


So I think going into anything where it's for your kids,

you hope that the GP, the dentist, the whoever,

is always presenting you with all of your options.

So when you're not presented with an option,

I guess you would assume that there isn't one.

I'm obviously privileged enough to work

for Bupa Dental Care, so I know

that there are options available to any patient,

and therefore we knew when we were referred with Evie

and that it didn't feel right, we knew

that we could take control of that pathway, part of

that appointment and get her seen by who we wanted to.

How important was the team in helping your daughter feel comfortable?

For me, it's really important.

The teams, the receptionists, the practice manager,

the nurse, and they are all part of the appointments

that Evie will be part of, whether that's with me,

with her mum, and when we get there,

they engage with Evie.

And that again, is really important for me

because I'm not the one that's got to sit in the chair.

I'm not the one that's going to have

fingers put in my mouth.

She's got to want to let these people do it.

So when they are all part of

inviting Evie into the practice, saying hello, greeting her,

looking her in the eyes even as a 12-year-old girl,

it's just wonderful.

How do you reassure Evie?

Reassuring Evie is, I guess, I get

to pull on the I'm your dad element of our relationship.

So she knows that I'll never put her in any

deliberate harm's way.

The other part of reassuring Evie is then just going

through it with her.

So being with her, I can't give her any false promise

that things won't hurt, that won't be stressful,

that won't be scary.

But if I can just let her know that I'm right there, I'm

with you, and we'll be able

to reflect on it and talk about it later.

She'll normally be able to find the bravery in herself

and get through.

What impact has finding the right orthodontist had on your daughter?

On Evie? Huge.

Because Evie doesn't often look forward to things,

even things that may be exciting.

So to come away from an orthodontist appointment

and almost have your daughter in the car

saying, can you take a picture?

Can you send it to me? I want to send it to my friends.

When am I going next?

Gives you feelings that words don't always describe,

but they are definitely feelings of pride.

Proud of your daughter for having braces

and feeling good in them, but proud

that you've made a good choice

and that there are people out there that want

to make a difference to the lives of people that

they may never see after these two years.

What makes Total Orthodontics (part of Bupa) so special?

For me, it's about the people without a doubt,

and it's the values that drives them.

So we have brave, responsible, and caring.

And I've worked for other businesses

before that are all value driven.

It's values on a paper, it's on a poster.

It's what you're made to read as part of your induction.

But in Bupa, it's different.

It's absolutely the core belief

of everybody that works there.

It's the intent and it's the drive that

how do you help someone else?

And for me, that means that the experience that Evie

and I have with India is not unique, so

that it can only be experienced by who you know.

I think it's that great feeling

that whoever you see within Bupa, you know you're going

to get that same experience.

What impact has finding the right orthodontist had on you as a father?

It's a huge impact.

So although the appointments are eight weeks apart,

although this is just one of many appointments that Evie has

to attend, or school things that she has to go to,

everything can be a battle with Evie and her autism

and her ADHD.

So it can be something that's really anxiety driven

for her, anything that we plan.

So knowing that we've got something that's really important,

that we can almost guarantee that when we get there,

she'll take part in it.

It's just in, I guess

it relieves me of any pressure or stress,

and that is worth more than anything.

What advice do you have for other parents whose children may be feeling anxious?

I guess for me, as a parent, it's already incredibly hard for me

to always be aware of what Evie needs or what Evie wants.

So when I know that there are certain actions

that I can take that make a difference, it's making sure

that I do, it's being disciplined in making sure

that the preparations, I don't change them

for my convenience or change them

for other people's convenience.

If I need to be inconvenienced, so be it.

And that can be quite difficult

because we are taught to do things the way we want to.

So having a child is

already a task in itself.

One with anxiety, ADHD

and autism means that you just got

to make those extra steps, but they're worth it.

Do you struggle to get your daughter to appointments?

Yeah, it can be a real struggle.

So it's not just appointments.

It can be anything that we are planning on

doing as a family.

And it can be, if we plan far enough ahead,

we can get Evie prepared, but that doesn't always work out.

Weather can change, plans can change.

People that are coming with us can change

and that can completely destroy

Evie's preparation for an appointment or an event.

She's missed school opportunities.

As a result, she wanted to go play football.

They were going to go to the local stadium.

She couldn't go because it changed.

So having something that is constant

and has a level of continuity is really important.

Did the orthodontist make adjustments for Evie's autism and ADHD?

Not as a result of me having

to advise them in the first instance, the orthodontist

that we absolutely just knew we could trust, already

took the time to engage directly with Evie, understands

that different children have different needs and once,

and was able to really quickly identify

that Evie had particular needs within her appointment

and engaged directly with her, talked her

through the appointment, but almost in reverse order.

So the bit that Evie was looking forward

to the most was having to pick coloured bands.

In particular, she wanted red, green, and blue,

and that was what they got her to pick first

and then talked her through what order was going to happen

to build up to getting the bands put in.

What to do if your child is scared of the dentist

At Bupa Dental Care, we understand that going to the dentist isn’t always top of kids’ wish lists for a fun day out. But not only is it an essential part of maintaining excellent oral health, it shouldn’t be an unpleasant, stressful or anxiety-causing experience.

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