Dealing With Dental Anxiety

Updated October 5, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Does the thought of visiting the dentist scare you? Well, you are not alone. Dental anxiety is very common, and studies show that around 24 percent of the world population experiences dental anxiety or fear related to going to the dentist. What goes through your mind when you see the dentist or the dental assistant preparing the tools for drilling your teeth?

For some people, the moment they get into the reception and the aseptic smell they become afraid. Then there is the sharp hook for scraping tartar from the patient's teeth and the chapped lips. Then, there are the uncomfortable moments when the dentist has to check whether your teeth need a root canal or removal.

Going To The Dentist Always Gives Me Anxiety

There are various reasons why people fear the dentists or dental checkups. For some the sounds of the drilling machine scare them, and are often afraid that the procedure will be extremely painful given the uncomfortable sound that the drill makes.

Unfortunately, dental checkups or visits are necessary, and the longer you postpone the visit, the worse the dental problem will become thus more expensive. The good thing is that dental anxiety is common, and there are various ways of dealing with the issue of dental anxiety. Below are some signs and symptoms of dental anxiety as well as helpful suggestions. But keep in mind, the most effective way of dealing with this type of anxiety is to get help from a professional therapist.

Symptoms And Signs Associated With Dental Anxiety

If one is experiencing dental anxiety, then he or she is likely to show the following:

  • They can only visit the dentist when in extreme pain
  • They have avoidance behaviors
  • Crying when the doctor starts to perform work
  • Being nervous while at the dental office
  • Racing heart
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sweating

Causes Of Dental Anxiety

Fear Of Injections

Just the mere sight of a syringe frightens some people. Others fear that the injections will not work as they are supposed to function. If one has had negative experiences with shots in the past, then during the subsequent visits the fear will remain.

Fear Of pain

Many people face dental anxiety because of the fear of pain. The horror stories from people who have experienced unpleasant dental procedures may make one have dental anxiety. Moreover, previous personal experiences may also be a cause of the fear of pain. Although today's dental operations or procedures are less painful, there may be instances when something goes horribly wrong thus causing dental pain.


One may feel embarrassed if they have neglected their teeth. A patient may feel uncomfortable because of the physical closeness of the dentist. For instance, the mouth odors and the rotten state of teeth may make them feel embarrassed.

The Feeling Of Loss Of Control

Human beings like to feel in control of what is happening around them. The fact that one is seated at the dental office with one's mouth wide open makes one think that they are not in control of what is happening in their mouth or body. One may feel overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness.

Past Bad Experience

Previous past experiences at the dentist's office may be a cause of dental anxiety. For instances, if at one time the dentist ended up cutting the patient's mouth or started the procedure before the anesthesia began working, that may be a cause of dental anxiety.

Costs Associated With Dental Checkups Or Operations

Dental procedures often involve many costs, and this may be a cause of anxiety for some people. If one does not have health insurance, then the thought of visiting the dentist may be a cause of anxiety due to the possible high costs of the dental procedure depending on the status of the patient's oral health.

How To Deal With Dental Anxiety

The best way to handle any anxiety issue is to tackle the problem head-on. The first line of action may be one of the hardest since it involves you being in contact with your dentist either in person or over the phone.

Talk And Your Anxieties With Your Dentist

Going To The Dentist Always Gives Me Anxiety

When booking the next appointment let the receptionist, know about your dental fears or anxiety. The dental team can treat you better if speak up and tell them your needs. Ask questions about possible procedures before going to the dentist so that you may alleviate any fears. If you experience pain during the dental procedure, let the dentist know about it. You do not have to be embarrassed about your pain tolerance because people have different measures in dental anxiety scale.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation often starts in mind, and practices such as prayer and meditation can help in relaxing the mind and alleviating any possible fears. Deep breathing is helpful in relaxing tensed muscles. If you are experiencing dental anxiety, you can start by counting your breaths. This technique is done by inhaling and exhaling at least five times slowly. This practice helps in slowing the heartbeat, thus relaxing you.

Relaxation not only lowers anxiety levels but it also helps the patient to cope with anxiety symptoms. A therapist is usually a great asset in this situation since he or she can teach the patient about the various relaxation techniques if they suspect that the patient has dental anxiety.

Muscle relaxation is also a great technique, where the patient starts by relaxing the body from the toes to the head. It should start from the head to the toes. For example, one can start by relaxing the muscles associated with the face, then the neck, shoulders, etc.

General Anesthesia

General anesthesia is the process of depressing consciousness using drugs. General anesthesia can only happen in a hospital setting but is a good option for severe anxiety.

This option is not applicable in some treatments such as those that need several appointments such as a root canal procedure that is carried out in several sessions. General anesthesia is best suitable for procedures that are most difficult and extremely painful or in cases of severe dental anxiety. It has possible side effects such as drowsiness and patients should not drive after the procedure. But remember that using general anesthesia does not help the patient to learn anxiety coping strategies and may become a 'crutch' if other techniques aren't learned.

Use Of Distractions

The use of distraction technique is very helpful as it helps in diverting the patient from the perceived painful or unpleasant procedure. Distraction helps in dealing with dental anxiety by decreasing avoidance behavior and by decreasing the perception of the dental procedure being unpleasant. Some of the possible ways of distraction are watching videos, background music, and computer games. Taking a short break is also a great way of distracting the patient.

Music helps in influencing the human brain leading to relaxation and reduction of anxiety. Music is a combination of distraction and relaxation. Patients with dental anxiety can also distract himself or herself by wearing earplugs and noise-canceling earphones to get rid of the frightening drilling sounds.

Use Of Happy Gas

The happy gas or the laughing gas helps patients to relax during dental procedures. Happy gas is nitrous oxide. One gets it through a mask through which the patient breathes nitrous oxide and oxygen. The patient feels relaxed but remains awake. Some people find the relaxed sensation from the happy gas and can overcome their dental anxiety from the use of it alone. Others find that combining happy gas with relaxation techniques best controls dental anxiety.

Use Of medications For Relieving anxiety

Dentists can prescribe medications for relieving anxiety such as diazepam, to help the patients relax. Dentists can sometimes give small and single dose one hour before the dental procedure to help the patient deal with dental anxiety. Remember that medication should only be taken under the guidance of the doctor. Therefore, the next time that you are visiting your dentist does not take any medication unless advised by the dentist. Always remember to have someone who can drive you after a dental procedure if you happen to be given any anxiolytic medication.

Conscious Sedation

Conscious sedation involves the use of drugs that depress the central nervous system, thus enabling the dental procedure to be carried out. During conscious sedation, verbal contact is maintained throughout the procedure. One can administer conscious sedation through inhalational, oral, rectal, intramuscular, and intravenous.

Conscious sedation does not apply to all patients because pre-existing conditions affect the type of sedation that one gets. Patients should not drive after the procedure because of the possible side effects of conscious sedation such as drowsiness and nausea. Sedation should not be habitual practice and should only be applicable out when there is a specific indication.

Although these tips are a start, there are many other ways to cope with dental anxiety. Do not let dental anxiety prevent you from getting proper oral health. Contact us at BetterHelp, and our counselors will help you address your dental anxiety issues. Let us help you in overcoming dental anxiety.

Other Commonly Asked Questions

How can I reduce dental anxiety?

What are some symptoms of dental anxiety?

Is dental anxiety normal?

Why is dental anxiety so common?

What can dentists do for nervous patients?

How do dentists stop panic attacks?

How can I calm my anxiety before going to the dentist?

What is oral anxiety?

Why are dentists suicidal?

Can Dentists tell if you have anxiety?

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