How to Combat Dental Anxiety

Does going to or just the thought of going to the dentist stir up feelings of uneasiness, panic, or fear?

Fear of going to the dentist, also known as “odontophobia,” is very common and has been diagnosed under specific phobias according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

According to WebMD, dental phobia can be a more serious condition than anxiety. “It leaves people panic-stricken and terrified…they exhibit classic avoidance behavior; that is, they will do everything possible to avoid going to the dentist. People with dental phobia usually go to the dentist only when forced to do so by extreme pain.”

In fact, anxiety prevents between 9% and 20% of Americans from going to the dentist altogether.

Those who suffer from a dental phobia may experience the following:

  • Trouble sleeping before their dental exam
  • Escalating feelings of nervousness leading up to and while in the dental office waiting room
  • Feeling overly emotional or crying at the thought of going to the dentist
  • Nausea, feeling physically ill, or difficulty breathing
  • Intense uneasiness thinking about and when dental instruments are placed in your mouth

What Causes Dental Phobia?

Dental anxiety may be caused by discomfort or fear of the following: 

  • Pain, which may stem from a previous unpleasant dental experience
  • Shots, needles, or worry that the injections won’t work
  • Anesthesia or possible anesthetic side effects such as dizziness, feeling faint, or nausea
  • Helplessness or loss of control during their dental exam 
  • A loss of personal space 
  • Discomfort with the physical closeness/proximity of the dentist or hygienist to their face
  • Feelings of self-consciousness about the appearance of their teeth

Afraid of going to the dentist? Here’s what you can do!

Thankfully, there are ways to manage anxiety so that it doesn’t prevent you from visiting the dentist to maintain proper oral health. Whether you suffer from odontophobia or some minor feelings of nervousness, we’ve got some tips to help combat your fears.

Communicate openly with your dentist.

If you’re a new patient or have been going to the same office for years, it’s important to discuss any anxiety with your dentist beforehand. Knowing your fears ahead of time will make them better equipped to make you more comfortable. A good dentist will take your feelings seriously!

For example, if your dentist knows that you have tremendous anxiety due to a lack of control, they can take extra measures to explain what’s happening throughout the entire procedure.

Find a family-friendly office environment.

It’s easier for patients of any age to feel more comfortable at the dentist when surrounded by a caring staff in a warm and welcoming environment. 

  • Are you greeted with a smile? 
  • Do you feel more at ease because the dental team has a great demeanor? 

Office atmosphere and energy matters, especially for those that are nervous.

Determine pain prevention/management strategies.

One of the most common reasons for fearing the dentist is pain. Talk to your dentist about various ways to manage the pain during and after treatment. Many dentists may use topical and local anesthesia or anxiety medications, followed by recommendations to minimize pain and swelling afterward such as ice, over-the-counter pain medication, or prescription medication. 

Find ways to relax and take comfort.

It’s also recommended that those with dental anxiety explore ways to relax and decrease stress and emotion leading up to and during dental exams and procedures. This might include:

  • Not scheduling appointments during overly stressful moments or periods during the day
  • Practicing deep breathing and meditation techniques to relax your mind and body
  • Bringing distractions such as headphones for music, podcasts, or books on tape while at your appointment
  • Having a family member or friend keep you company

You can also speak to your dentist or another healthcare professional about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), another approach used for other phobias and is geared at changing negative thoughts and actions.

Opt for a more tech-savvy dental practice.

Advancements in dentistry have resulted in far less painful and even pain-free dental procedures. Find a practice that uses cutting-edge dental technology, which can help shorten visits and make exams and treatment more comfortable. 

An experienced dentist matters.

Put your oral health and any feelings of dental anxiety in the hands of a highly-skilled dentist with experience. Particularly for those with dental anxiety, having comfort with your dentist is key. And, who better to trust than one who has years of experience and a great background? 

Ask family and friends who they recommend, and read online reviews. You’ll get a good sense of a dentist’s expertise and personality by doing your research.

Be a regular!

The best way to have a positive experience at the dentist is to make regular visits. Like anything, the more you go, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Don’t wait until you’re in pain to see your dentist—avoid complex, stressful, and costly treatments by getting checked out at least two times a year.  

Good oral health is representative of your overall health, so make it a habit to see your dentist regularly!

Be at Ease at Wilton Smiles

Here at Wilton Smiles, we go the extra mile to ensure the comfort and well-being of our patients. We provide a friendly, warm, and professional atmosphere, making the experience pleasant from start to finish.

It is our greatest privilege to meet the oral health needs of so many families in the Wilton area. Whether you’ve been putting off your next visit because of dental anxiety or are avoiding that toothache for fear of potential pain, consider us your partner in oral health, here to put your mind (and mouth!) at ease.

Call us at (860) 397-6693 or click here to schedule a virtual appointment.



WebMDNational Library of MedicineHarvard Health Publishing

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