Dental Anxiety: Tips & tricks for a stress-free dentist visit

Afraid of going to the dentist? You’re not alone. More than 1 in 4 Americans (27%) who skipped a visit to the dentist admit it was because they were scared of going.

Neglecting dental care often leads to poor oral health, pain, and more expensive, complex dental procedures in the future. For people with a dental phobia, confronting it can be really tough. Here’s why you might experience a fear of the dentist and some advice on how to overcome it.

The Causes of Dental Anxiety

It's normal for people to experience dental anxiety in varying degrees. Some common causes include:

  • Bad dental experiences in the past, especially when younger

  • General anxiety

  • Worry or embarrassment about poor oral health

  • Anxiety about payment

  • Fear of possible pain

  • Fear of needles and/or dental drills

  • Fear of gagging or choking

Your Dentist and Dental Hygienist Can Help

Dental professionals are experienced in creating a calm and relaxing environment for patients. Being open with your dentist about your concerns is important and will help ease any feelings of fear you might have. By being upfront, they will be able to ensure you feel relaxed and comfortable during your appointment. Your dentist can offer suggestions and treatments to help you deal with your fear. They may also provide support such as pillows, blankets, or a warm neck wrap to make you more comfortable. You can take this opportunity to share past experiences and any other details that can help the dental staff better understand your concerns.

If you have felt pain in a past visit, let the dentist know as they may suggest a larger dose of local anesthetic to ease the pain. After the visit, your dentist might offer you some ways to ease any pain that you are experiencing in your mouth (e.g. over-the-counter medication or a prescription) and provide other tips (e.g. ice pack or an oral rinse).

Is the cost of treatment giving you a lot of anxiety? Get an estimate and talk to your dentist about payment options. You might also want to look into dental insurance so that you can cover treatments in the future.

How to Relieve Anxiety

The work of dental professionals can be terrifying. You may also want to try these various suggestions to help alleviate your worries:

  • Ask your friends and family members if they know a dentist who puts them at ease.

  • Avoid scheduling your appointment when you’re already feeling pressed or rushed. You may want to schedule it early in the morning or on the weekend.

  • Before your appointment, try not to eat too much sugar or caffeine, which might make you more nervous. Eating more protein is good for your brain and can also help reduce anxiety.

  • If visitor access is allowed, bring a partner, friend or family member with you.

  • Take five deep breaths before the treatment to help slow your heart rate and relax your muscles. Count slowly to five as you inhale, hold for a second, then slowly exhale for five counts. Repeat this process three times.

  • The dental office provides a lot of different ways to keep your mind occupied, such as with TV or music. Or you can bring your own music and headphones.

  • Play with a stress toy or fidget spinner to keep your hands and mind occupied.

  • Let your dentist know if you need a brief pause in treatment.

Dental anxiety is a common struggle. Remember to tell your dental staff how you feel, and they'll be able to help put you at ease. Maintaining good oral health care is important for longevity and it is easy to do when you visit the dentist regularly. Avoiding the dentist can lead to painful dental problems that might require more complicated treatment in the future.