Dental Anxiety: What It Is and How to Cope
If the thought of going to for a dental visit causes your heart to race, you’re certainly not alone. Whether you’re concerned about the possibility of cavities and the needles and drills required to fix them, or you’ve had a bad experience that still gives you anxiety, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you for being nervous of a dental scenario.
However, dental anxiety can become an issue if it keeps you from seeing a dental professional and getting your teeth professionally treated.1 Learn what dental anxiety is and some helpful coping tips, so that you can keep your teeth healthy and your smile looking its best.
What Is Dental Anxiety?
Dental anxiety is associated with the thought of visiting a dental professional for regular cleanings and preventative care, as well as other procedures.1 Anxiety is a common emotional state that comes before an encounter, stimulus or event perceived as threatening.1 It may be experienced in day-to-day life during a wide range of circumstances, including taking an exam, making decisions and even driving. If left alone and not managed, it can keep you from living your life.
While anxiety is an emotional state, fear is more of a physical reaction to a threat that can be real or perceived, and it can lead to a fight-or-flight reaction.1 Dental phobias are persistent fears of a specific stimulus—like the sound of a drill or the memory of an upsetting experience—that may lead to a complete avoidance of any scenario that might introduce said stimulus, including going to see a dental professional.
For someone with this anxiety, this might mean avoiding the dentist entirely. Learn how you can manage dental anxiety in order to keep your teeth healthy and free of cavities.
How to Cope With Dental Anxiety
Fear of going to a dental office and receiving treatment can contribute to the avoidance of dental care, so it’s important to take good care of your teeth at home.3 By brushing every day with a toothpaste that helps protect your teeth from cavities, like Aquafresh Cavity Protection Fluoride Toothpaste, your regular dental cleanings can be a breeze. If you’re committed to your health, taking excellent care of your teeth at home is a great first step and can help reduce the need for complex dental procedures or extended cleanings, which can help you cope with feelings of anxiousness you may have about visiting a dental professional.
While that’s a very straightforward solution, it may not be immediately viable for everyone. There are other methods for handling dental anxiety that may be more involved and ultimately hinge on advocating for yourself and being proactive.
- Speak up. Talk to your dental professional about your anxiety before booking your appointment and discuss your concerns ahead of time.2 This allows you and your dentist to talk about solutions and what can help any concerns you may have before they become too big to manage. Your dental professional wants you to feel safe and comfortable during your visit, and is likely to work with you so that you feel at ease.3 For example, you and your dental professional may agree on a hand signal if you need a break during your appointment.2 If your dentist knows your fears, they’ll take extra steps to ensure that you feel more comfortable.3
- Try mindfulness. Some deep breathing exercises might help you release any tension in your muscles.2,3 Think about counting your breaths, do a mental scan of your body and focus on relaxing each part of your body. Start at your head and work your way down to your toes. Progressively tense and relax your muscles and pay attention to the different sensations in your body.3
- Distract yourself. Most dental professionals don’t mind if you wear headphones, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their work.2,3 Listen to a podcast, an audiobook or your favorite music to put you at ease. Bring a stress ball or a fidget spinner if you need something to do with your hands. If watching an oral health care specialist work in your mouth is causing you stress, talk to them about wearing a sleep mask during the procedure.
You may also want to talk to your medical provider about medications that can help reduce your fear and anxiety. Anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepine, can help you calm down.3 These drugs can help to manage mild-to-moderate anxiety and can help people feel relaxed before their dental visit.3 Some practices use nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas) as a form of conscious sedation to help calm the nerves of their patients.3
Adults aren’t the only ones who experience dental anxiety; too.4 Fortunately, pediatric dentists are trained in alleviating anxiety in children and aim to make their visit a pleasant one, since dental patients with a history of positive experiences are less likely to develop dental anxiety later in life.4 Think about how your own attitudes and fears about the dentist may influence others in your household, and take steps to manage them, especially when it comes to dealing with your child’s first cavity.3,4 If your current dental professional isn’t willing to help you and your children feel comfortable during cleanings and treatments, you may want to .
Taking the time to acknowledge your fears and talk about them with your dental professional can go a long way toward alleviating future dental anxiety.
- Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4790493/. Accessed 5/22/2023.
- Anxiety. MouthHealthy by ADA. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/all-topics-a-z/anxiety. Accessed 5/22/2023.
- Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4790493/. Accessed 10/24/23.
- How Can We Reduce Dental Fear in Children? The Importance of the First Dental Visit. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8700154/. Accessed 10/24/23.