Oral & Vision Health Blog

Tips for Managing Dental Anxiety and Your Next Visit

Dentophobia is exactly what it sounds like. The term refers to an excessive fear of dentists. That makes receiving dental care difficult. Those feelings of helplessness and loss of control can be overwhelming. That bright light shining right in your face. Your mouth jammed with dental instruments. You’re not able to speak, yet you need to sit still and hear those high-pitched drills. Really, all you want to do is get out of the seat as soon as you can!

Key Takeaways:

  • Find a dentist who specializes in dental phobia, and schedule for a less busy time.
  • Arrive early and bring a trusted support person.
  • Seek professional help before your appointment.
  • Make a list and explain your concerns to the dentist.
  • Remember the dentist will techniques to make more treatment more comfortable.
  • Maintain a strong oral health routine at home.

While not everyone will have the exact same fears, research shows that nearly one in three Americans haven't been to the dentist out of fear. For many that ties in with the potential for pain or an experience of significant pain from a previous dental visit. Once you have that fear of pain, your body becomes tense, and your pain tolerance goes down even further.

Other than discomfort and pain, you may be told that you are not brushing and flossing enough or that you require more dental work that you bargained for.

But avoiding the dentist is not a workable option. There is bad breath, tooth decay, and periodontal disease. Then beyond that is other serious illnesses. Fortunately, managing dental anxiety is possible and fear of the dentist can be remedied through steps that both you and your dentist can take to make the visit less intense.

Why is it important to go to the dentist?
The most obvious reason to go to the dentist is self-esteem. You can know that you are taking care of your health and you can feel good about the appearance of your teeth. Then there is the important work you are doing to prevent oral health issues now and, in the future, like:

  • Mouth pain
  • Bad breath
  • Stained and discolored teeth
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Chipped, broken, or cracked teeth.
  • Tooth loss
  • Gum disease and gum recession

What can I do before I go to the dentist’s office?

  • Call ahead, find out what to expect: If you know what steps will be involved in your appointment or procedure you can go in with a clearer head. This will prepare you to know what you will likely feel in the moment. This step will be especially important if you are going to a new dentist. You will feel comfortable in expressing your concerns or anxiety. It is also worth doing some research to see if you can find a dentist who specializes in treating patients with dental phobia. For extra peace of mind, you can ask what times are less busy so you can schedule your appointment around that. With fewer people and less noise, you could have a more suitable environment for your visit.
  • Ask someone to be your designated support person: If you start to feel anxious, it can really help to have someone familiar who can hold your hand and talk to you during the visit. And they will likely feel honored that you chose them for a key role in your wellness.
  • Seek professional help before your visit: If the idea of going in for your next dental visit or procedure is debilitating, you can seek out the help of a professional. There is a technique known as exposure therapy that is said to be successful in treating dentophobia. It involves being gradually desensitized to your fear. This may include a combination of initial visits before your treatment and certain types of anti-anxiety medications that can help in managing dental anxiety. Be sure to seek out your primary care doctor or a behavioral health specialist to find what will work best for you.
  • Plan to arrive on time for your visit: You can decrease the chance of being anxious by getting to the dentist office with enough time to get comfortable. You can also ask if there is any paperwork you can fill out online or by mail before your visit to limit the number of stressors for you on the day.

What can I do once I’m at the dentist’s office?

  • Acknowledge your fears and speak up: If you experience pain or have a fear of pain, especially involving the dentist, it is worth writing down those concerns. For each person the concerns will be different. It may come from childhood or based on hearing a “horror story” from a family member or friend. You can talk over those fears with your dentist, which will allow you to work together to find ways to reduce your anxiety. Remember that dentists are trained and equipped to help you. They will have options that can relieve stress and even pain, whether that’s soothing music, a warm face towel, sedation or laughing gas.
  • Ask for breaks: You have the choice to ask your dentist for breaks during treatment. One option is to create a signal that you and your dental agree on ahead of time. When you give the signal, your dentist will know you need a short break to take slow, calming breath and reset.
  • Use relaxation to help: You can make a playlist of favorite songs or podcasts on your phone to ease your mind. Close your eyes and put it on when you need it. If you are sensitive to sounds like those from dental tools, you can bring earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. Aromatherapy or bringing something tactile like a squeezy ball may also be great calming methods for you.
  • Remember that dental technology has come a long way: If you have had any negative experiences at the dentist, it is natural to have anxiety or an aversion to getting back in the dentist’s chair. While past situations can’t be changed, it is important to keep in mind that dental treatment has transformed over the years. The techniques for surgery and treatment have been upgraded. There are numbing gels and topical anesthetics that be used before procedures and injections. And the actual injections have been developed to reduce pain. There is also updated technology for performing x-rays. Even waiting rooms have improved and become more comfortable for nervous patients. You can always ask questions when you’re scheduling and educate yourself about what is new in dentistry.

What can I do after my appointment?

  • Take stock of your experience: You can take time to think about the pros and cons of your last dental experience. What was helpful? What could be changed to make the next visit more pleasant or comfortable? Your dentist’s office will encourage the feedback and it will be a helpful exercise for you.
  • Do not be afraid to switch dentists: Finding the right dentist, or any type of healthcare professional, is important. While the decision to switch shouldn’t be taken lightly based on one experience, it is worth considering if the dentist is the right fit for you. If you’re lucky, you will only see that dentist two or three times a year at most. However, if you have more complicated issues, you will want to make sure you have the right partners for the job. If you need help finding a new dentist you can ask the office for referrals, search online reviews, and even ask a relative or friend.

How can I help my child when going to the dentist?

  • Make sure you have a pediatric dentist: Also known as pedodontists, these dental professionals must complete a four-year dentistry degree, plus additional years specializing in children and their specific dental needs. They can treat children from infancy through adolescence, as well as children with special needs. This foundational background gives them the knowledge and guidance to help gain the cooperation of their young patients.
  • Find out if the office is child-centric: You will want to know if your child will feel comfortable going to the dentist you choose. You can do some online research and call ahead to find out what the office has in place to cater to children. They may have themed décor (like a playground or the aquarium). Many dental offices who see children also have movies playing in the waiting room or games and books to look at.
  • Learn about the staff: The dental office staff play a major role in your child’s experience. They are the first people you and your child meet and will set the tone. Both the staff and the dentist should be able to explain what will be happening during the appointment to you and your child. Again, you can call and do online research, or ask if you can have a trial visit.
  • Ask about the treatment room policy: These policies change based on the dentist’s preferences. So, it is important to ask if parents are allowed in the treatment room and if they can stay for the whole time.
  • See if they have sedation options: If your child is prone to anxiety or has experienced pain during an appointment it is worth finding out if they offer anesthesia or "laughing gas" for children.
  • Bring a tablet or book: Keeping your child happily distracted during a long or stressful appointment can be key to ensuring they are comfortable. They can watch their favorite videos or play games. You can also bring a storybook or coloring book where they can focus their attention.

    Maintain a strong oral health routine at home
    For both children and adults, oral health is more than just going to the dentist. It's an everyday practice. Having a daily dental hygiene routine will help with your teeth and breath, as well as help prevent cavities and diseases. This routine will only take a few minutes per day. For your kids, keep the routine light and fun so they don’t dread taking care of their teeth. You can back this up by going to the dentist twice a year for a checkup and a cleaning. The dentist will be able to review your oral health and give you recommendations.

Fear of the dentist can be a lot to deal with. We hope these tips help you stay on track with your oral health and schedule your appointment. Also be sure to check with your dental insurance to find out what services are covered and how often they are allowed. If you don’t have dental insurance, it may be worth looking into.


Disclaimer: This is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. 


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