Dealing With Dental Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated November 27, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dental visits might trigger feelings of nervousness for some. Whether it's fear of pain, the sound of the drill or past negative experiences, dental anxiety (or dentophobia) can be a widespread issue that affects many individuals. 

Seeking regular dental care can be essential for maintaining good oral health, and managing dentophobia can be possible with the right approach. 

Below, we explore science-supported strategies that can help many to live well with dental anxiety—possibly helping to make the next dental appointment a more relaxed, stress-free experience.

You Can Live Well With Dental Anxiety

Understanding Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety generally refers to a specific phobia that can be related to dental procedures. It can be more than just feeling nervous before a dental appointment for many, possibly resulting in a severe and persistent fear that can interfere with receiving necessary dental care. 

If you have dental anxiety, you might experience physical symptoms (such as sweating, shaking, rapid heartbeat or fainting). You may also experience mental and emotional symptoms, such as feelings of panic, dread or a strong urge to avoid dental appointments.

Identifying The Causes Of Dental Anxiety

Before one begins to address dental anxiety, it can be helpful to understand the possible root causes. Common causes of dental anxiety can include:

  • A fear of pain
  • Negative past experiences
  • Embarrassment or shame about the condition of one’s teeth
  • A sensitive gag reflex
  • A general fear of medical procedures
  • Childhood trauma

Once the possible cause of dental anxiety has been identified, working with a dentist to find the best solution could be a plausible option for many.

Communication With Your Dentist: Starting The Conversation 

Effective communication with your dentist can be helpful for managing dental anxiety in many. Expressing fears and concerns to your dentist and asking questions about the procedures can be a good place to start. 

Your dentist can listen to your needs and work with you to create a treatment plan that minimizes feelings of nervousness and maximizes comfort. This can look different for many, and can include strategies such as:

  • Providing detailed information about the procedure before it begins
  • Offering “gentle” sedation options, such as nitrous oxide or oral sedation
  • Using numbing agents to minimize pain
  • Allowing for breaks during the procedure

Helpful Steps For Your Next Appointment

Preparation steps could also significantly reduce dental anxiety in some. Here are some tips for preparing for a dental appointment:

  • Choose a dentist you trust and feel comfortable with. Extra research and evaluation of customer reviews can be a helpful first step as you choose your practitioner. 
  • Research any procedures beforehand to possibly gain an understanding of what to expect. Education can empower many to move forward with a procedure in confidence. 
  • Bring a friend or family member for support. Having someone for moral support can be incredibly helpful as you go in for your dental procedure. 
  • Write down any questions or concerns ahead of time. This can help you communicate more effectively with your dentist and can reduce feelings of nervousness. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or visualization, before the appointment. Beginning in a place of tranquility can help you to have a smoother overall experience. 

Here are a few coping strategies to consider if you begin to feel nervous over the course of your dental appointment:

  • Focus on slow, deep breathing to calm the body and mind. Controlling your breathing can help you to reduce feelings of nervousness over the course of the appointment. 
  • Use positive self-talk to reassure yourself. Being intentional about this can help to direct your focus elsewhere. 
  • Distract yourself with music, a book or a movie during the procedure. Redirecting nervous thoughts to something productive, such as music or a book, can be helpful. 
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation to release tension in the muscles. This has been clinically suggested as an effective means of lowering nervous feelings. 
  • Use visualization to imagine a calm and relaxed state during the procedure. Visualization can be an effective way to reduce feelings of nervousness in many. 

Seeking Professional Help

If dentophobia becomes too severe and interferes with receiving necessary dental care, seeking professional help might be required. This can look different for everyone based on individual need, and can include intervention such as online therapy, counseling or medication. 

Benefits Of Online Therapy

Many experiencing symptoms of dentophobia can benefit from online therapy. While in-person intervention can be helpful, it can be difficult for many experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorder to leave the home. Online therapy can offer a higher degree of availability and ease for many, possibly reducing barriers to care. 

One of the other benefits of online therapy for dentophobia is that it can help address the underlying thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to feelings of nervousness. 

For example: Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help you identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs related to dental procedures. This could reduce nervousness and support a more positive outlook on dental visits. Additionally, online therapy can provide the tools and strategies needed to manage symptoms of anxiety disorder during dental appointments. 

By addressing the root causes of dental anxiety and developing coping skills, one could improve one’s oral health and receive necessary dental care with less stress and fear.

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You Can Live Well With Dental Anxiety

Effectiveness Of Online Therapy For Dentophobia

According to a study published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Surgery, dental anxiety and phobia can result in avoidance of necessary dental care—possibly leading to stress for both the patient and the dentist. Early identification and assessment of dental anxiety levels can be helpful in addressing this issue, which is a task that can be seamlessly done using online therapy services. 

The report went on to note that dental anxiety can be managed through psychotherapeutic interventions, such as behavior modification, cognitive therapies and pharmacological interventions. Psychotherapeutic interventions generally aim to change behaviors and alter negative thoughts, while pharmacological interventions relieve anxiety disorder-related symptoms. Conversely, cognitive behavior therapy, generally designated as a combination of behavior therapy and cognitive therapy, is currently considered the most successful psychological treatment for anxiety disorder and phobia for many.


Dental anxiety may be a challenge but with the right approach and support, it can be overcome, empowering you to receive necessary dental care for a healthy and bright smile. Understanding the possible root causes of dental anxiety, communicating with your dentist, preparing for appointments and using coping strategies can help to make your next dental appointment a relaxed and stress-free experience. Online therapy can also be a powerful tool for many, offering the support and tools needed to successfully face dentophobia. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

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