Taking your child to the dentist must definitely be in the top most unpleasant activities for any parent. With a few exceptions, children will cry, fuss, complain and even run when you need them to stay still. A pediatric dentist is a professional dedicated to the oral health of the children, who not only has the experience and qualifications to care for a child’s teeth, but who also trained to deal with the specific challenges associated with treating a child. Nevertheless, going to the dentist with a child is almost never a pleasant activity. However, it must be done.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.
- About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- Children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely (25%) to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households (11%).
Dental fear and anxiety in children
According to one study, “fear of and anxiety towards going to dentists (ie, dental fear and anxiety, DFA) are major problems for a sizeable proportion of children and adolescents. The prevalence of DFA in children and adolescents ranges from 5-20% in various countries, with some cases being considered to be dental phobia (severe DFA).” So up to 1 in 5 children and adolescents are afraid of going to the dentist, they are uncooperative during dental visits, rendering the treatment very difficult or even impossible and compromising the treatment’s outcome, or they may delay or completely avoid treatment, resulting in deterioration of their oral health. So what can be done, then?
Using aromatherapy to fight child anxiety during dental treatment
One study, published in 2013 under the title “Effect of aromatherapy with orange essential oil on salivary cortisol and pulse rate in children during dental treatment: A randomized controlled clinical trial”, investigated effect of aromatherapy with orange essential oil on child anxiety during dental treatment.
But before getting into the interesting results of this study, here is a brief summary of the known health benefits of orange essential oil:
- Orange essential oil is used in aromatherapy as a nervine / calmative and is known to minimize anxiety and depression and boost emotional wellbeing. Studies showed that smelling citrus for 10 minutes helps rise the serotonin or “happy hormone” level and boosts your mood.
- Orange essential oil contains over 90% limonene along with smaller amounts of alpha-pinene, sabinene and beta-pinene, and myrcene.
- One scientific study showed that inhalation of essential oils causes a different subjective perception of fragrance depending on the type of work undertaken. For instance, orange essential oil produced a much more favorable impression after physical work than before work, while for other types of essential oils it was the opposite.
- As all citrus essential oils, orange essential oil promotes happiness and positivity, it boosts energy and improves concentration.
- Orange essential oil stimulates joy, eases anxiety and worry and helps you stay energized and focused.
- Orange essential oil can be added to toothpastes and mouthwashes to fight bacterial growth, prevent infections and fight halitosis (bad breath).
- Orange essential oil can be used for skin care (always diluted!), helping it heal and preventing infections and acne breakouts, but it can also be used in your DIY natural cleaners, for a germ-free home. Studies showed that orange essential oil can even prevent the proliferation of E. coli.
Now, going back to the study, in order to determine the effects of aromatherapy with orange essential oil on child anxiety during dental treatment, the authors looked into the differences between salivary cortisol levels and pulse rate in the test group, taking into consideration the data collected before and after the completion of treatment in each visit.
Thirty children (10 boys and 20 girls) aged 6-9 years participated in the study. Each child underwent two dental treatment appointments including dental prophylaxis and fissure-sealant therapy under orange aroma in one session (intervention) and without any aroma (control) in another one. Their anxiety level was measured using salivary cortisol and pulse rate before and after treatment in each visit.
Oral prophylaxis and fissure-sealant therapy were selected, explain the authors, “because of their convenience, noninvasiveness, and ethical nature. Because these two procedures are painless, it was supposed that any changes in salivary cortisol and pulse rate might be as a result of stress and not because of pain.”
An electrical aroma diffuser was used to pass a stream of air driven by a fan to diffuse essential oils, out of sight of the participants. For the control group, water was used in the diffuser instead of an aromatic oil.
The results, write the authors, “showed that the salivary cortisol level and pulse rate decreased in intervention groups by using aromatherapy and that these differences were statistically significant.
On inhalation of scented oils, volatile molecules of the oil reach the lungs and rapidly diffuse into the blood, causing brain activation via systemic circulation. However, these molecules also bind to olfactory receptors, creating an electrophysiological response which reaches the brain. Neocortex activation is expected to occur by this response, which has an effect on perception of odors and reaches the limbic system regions including amygdale and hypothalamus, the areas where levels of hormone and emotions are controlled. Thus, the salivary cortisol level and pulse rate decrease as mentioned above, following aromatherapy.
The result of the present study is in agreement with the results obtained in the 2000 and 2005 studies by Lehrner et al. and 2010 study by Kritsidima et al.”
Read more about the use of aromatherapy in medical settings here:
Aromatherapy and occupational therapy
The use of aromatherapy for people with diabetes
Aromatherapy massage can reduce anxiety and boost self-esteem in elderly women
Aromatherapy, a great tool for midwives
Did you know: The Use of Essential Oils in Hospitals
Essential oils for surgery recovery: all the ways in which aromatherapy can aid
Aromatherapy with lavender essential oil might be effective against cesarean postoperative pain, study shows
Aromatherapy with lavender and rose essential oils can reduce labor pain in women who give birth for the first time, study shows
Also, here are some more interesting findings of this study regarding child anxiety during dental treatment, which you might find useful for better understanding and dealing with your child’s fears:
- Avoiding dental treatment due to anxiety may lead to a decline in the state of oral health;
- Incidence of cavities can be predicted by dental anxiety;
- Anxious patients are more sensitive to pain;
- Overcoming fear and anxiety can increase regular dental visits and improve overall quality of life;
- In a dental setting, there are many factors that can provoke anxiety, such as the sights (medical equipment), the sensations and, of course the smells. Actually, in several study the smell of dental office was strongly liked to dental phobia.
- More and more scientists support the use of aromatherapy in dental settings for its anxiolytic and tranquilizing effect.
You can ask your pediatric dentist about the possibility of using aromatherapy in the dental office, or you can also simply do it yourself. Put a few drops of orange essential oil on a couple of cotton balls and drop them in your purse! If your child becomes anxious, just take them out and enjoy together an instant aromatherapy session. Orange essential oil is safe to use for diffusions in children over 1 year of age, so no need to worry about that. But you can also try other essential oils. Besides orange, the best essential oils to relieve stress and anxiety are Lavender, Rose, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Chamomile and Frankincense. Check out this article for a complete list of the essential oils you can safely use for children: Aromatherapy for Kids: What’s Safe and What Works for What
For more on how aromatherapy can enhance your parenting, also read:
Teaching your child how to swim – the right age to start and the essential oils that can be of help
Massage for children – What are the benefits?
Essential oils for nocturnal bed-wetting (enuresis) in children
How to clean and disinfect your child’s backpack and lunchbox
Back to school – how to naturally boost your child’s immune system
Essential oils that can help both you and your child cope with back to school depression
Gentle detox for children
Aromatherapy with lavender for baby colic and maternal depression
Essential oils for potty training – the surprising benefits
Best essential oils for diaper rash
Essential oils for nocturnal bed-wetting (enuresis) in children
Kids, check this! Homemade therapeutic play dough with essential oils
Essential oils that can help stop nail biting
Try this DIY dry wash for stuffed animals!