14 Ways to Overcome Dental Anxiety

By Therese Vannier, RDA/OMSA March 6, 2018

patient with dental anxiety

Nervous about going to the tooth doctor? You’re not alone. In America, 5 percent to 14 percentof people experience high dental anxiety, and 80 percent have a lower level of nervousness. Unfortunately, many will avoid cleanings and treatments altogether, which is extremely dangerous, not just for oral health but for overall health. Gum disease has been linked to serious problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Dental anxiety isn’t really about any rational fear or pain. Those who feel it usually dislike having to lie back in a vulnerable position, allow someone to put sharp instruments in their mouth, and sit still for what seems like an eternity. A simple cleaning usually takes about 30 minutes, but if you’re anxious it can feel more like two hours.

It’s critical for people to get over their dental anxiety so that their oral and physical health are not compromised. Here are 14 ways to overcome this debilitating sensation.

1. Invest in a dental mirror.

You’re accustomed to putting food and beverages in your mouth, but not allowing someone you barely know stick unfamiliar objects in there. Clinicians have a lot of knowledge about your mouth that you don’t, but you can even the playing field by taking a gander in there yourself. It might sound silly, but the better you know your mouth, the more empowered you’ll feel. Play doctor and use a dental mirror to gently retract your cheeks. Stand under a bright light and probe around with your fingers so you get familiar with the feeling. You can also use this approach to reduce your child’s dental anxiety.

2. Fall in love with your mouth. 

Take care of your mouth and brush for two minutes at least twice a day. Floss at least once a day, and use a water irrigator to gently rinse away food particles after brushing. After a teeth cleaning, ask your dentist about lightening your pearly whites. You’ll crush out on your bright smile. If you love your mouth, you’ll want to take care of it by overcoming anxiety and going to the dentist regularly.

3. Get a referral from a friend. 

Find a doctor who understands dental anxiety. Ask around your circle of friends and find out who has a great doc who will empathize with your needs and not make you feel bad about your fears. Inquire about their bedside manner and whether or not they have advanced technology and a clean, organized practice.

4. Ask about technology.

Nothing is worse than a dentist who hates their job. Dentists who invest in technology usually love the field of dentistry and have fewer bad days because they have the tools they need to make procedures more predictable and patients more comfortable.

5. Schedule your appointment in the afternoon so you can go to lunch first. 

Never go to a dental appointment on an empty stomach, unless you’re undergoing general anesthesia. Having balanced blood sugar levels will help reduce your stress.

6. Break your dental treatment plan into smaller, more manageable appointments. 

Break down overwhelming procedures into the shortest possible appointments. Office managers are understanding people can help with appointment planning so you can achieve your dental goals.

7. Learn how to relax.

Focus on your breathing and relaxing. Take some meditation classes and master the art of breathing deeply. Relax your body and your emotions will follow.

8. Ask the dental assistant to be your wingwoman/wingman. 

Today’s technology allows dental assistants to be more patient-focused. Explain that you’re nervous and ask for help. These experienced caregivers are full of information and are more than wiling to walk you through the sights, sounds and smells of the procedure. They’ll even hold your hand during your appointment. Don’t worry about being perceived as a wimp. If it makes you feel better and keeps you in the chair, that’s all that matters.

9. Tell your doctor that you’re apprehensive.

If your doc knows you’re anxious, they’ll make a special effort to talk you through what’s going on and why. If you know why you’re anxious, let them know that, too. Some common anxiety triggers are fear of the unknown, fear of choking, fear of drowning, fear of the inability to breathe and fear of pain. The best dentists won’t think twice about explaining what’s going on, which is one more reason to get a referral from a friend.

10. Dress for comfort.

Most dental practices are chilly. When you make your appointment, ask the receptionist if it would be OK to bring a few comfy things from home. Prepare for the visit by wearing loose, comfortable clothes, taking off your kicks, and throwing your favorite cozy blanket over yourself.

11. Listen to your tunes.

Bring your “my happy place” music to your appointment. Relaxing music will help lighten your mood, and your ear buds will help drown out any unpleasant noises.

12. Be in control.

Let your clinician know if you need to take a break from treatment by raising your hand. This will help you develop trust and good communication with your clinician.

13. Prove your dental anxiety wrong. 

By going to your appointment and having a good experience, you can demonstrate to yourself that your worst nightmare didn’t happen. The next time you go, your fears will be lessened.

14. Discover why you’re anxious.

It’s perfectly normal to be a little nervous about a dental visit, but if you think your anxiety stems from a past trauma that you haven’t dealt with emotionally, seek professional therapy or hypnotherapy.

Despite what your anxious thoughts might lead you to believe, the fear of going to the dentist is usually unfounded. So try out some of these suggestions, visit your dentist and make sure your mouth is as healthy as it can be.