Background Existing measures of children's dental anxiety have not been developed with children or based on a theoretical framework of dental anxiety. Aim To develop the children's experiences of dental anxiety measure (CEDAM) and evaluate the measure's properties. Design The measure was developed from interviews with dentally anxious children. Children recruited from a dental hospital and secondary school completed the CEDAM and Modified Child Dental Anxiety Scale (MCDAS). A subgroup of children completed the CEDAM before and after receiving an intervention to reduce dental anxiety to examine the measure's responsiveness. Rasch and Classical test analyses were undertaken. Results Children were aged between 9 and 16 years (N = 88 recruited from a dental hospital and N = 159 recruited from a school). Rasch analysis confirmed the measure's unidimensionality. The CEDAM correlated well with the MCDAS (rho = 0.67, P < 0.01) and had excellent internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha = 0.88) and test–retest reliability (ICC = 0.98). The CEDAM was also able to detect changes in dental anxiety following the intervention (baseline mean = 22.36, SD = 2.57 and follow-up mean = 18.88, SD = 2.42, t(df = 37) = 9.54, P < 0.01, Cohen's d = 1.39). Conclusions The results support the reliability, validity and responsiveness of the CEDAM. Initial findings indicate it has potential for use in future intervention trials or in clinical practice to monitor children's dental anxiety.