7 ways to manage your anxiety about going to the dentist

As many as 40 million Americans avoid the dentist because of fear and anxiety, according to Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.

So, why the fear of the dentist? People are anxious about dental visits for different reasons. Some anticipate pain. Others worry that the dentist might be rushed or neglect their concerns. Additional stressors include negative memories of past experiences and even the sterile smell of the dental office. Sometimes, simply interrupting the normal day's routine for a dentist visit creates anxiety.

If unaddressed, dental anxiety can lead to oral health problems, which can, in turn, require more dental treatment.

Trust and communication help lower stress

One of the most important factors in overcoming dental anxiety is good communication between you and your dentist. When you feel informed and in control throughout a visit, you’re typically less anxious.

”It’s common for people to feel some level of anxiety when visiting a physician or dentist,“ said Kevin Sheu, DDS, professional services director for Delta Dental. “However, if a patient’s anxiety is preventing access to needed care, the individual should have a frank discussion with the dentist before starting any treatment. As health care professionals, dentists are trained to treat patients who have anxiety. Many safe and comfortable techniques can make dental care less stressful, including the use of medication.”

Tips for staying calm when you visit the dentist

If you’re nervous about an upcoming dental visit, try these ways to curb your anxiety:

  1. Share your fears. If you're tense or anxious, tell your dentist and the dental staff. Expressing your concerns will help your dentist adapt the treatment to your needs.
  2. Focus on breathing regularly and slowly during dental procedures. When people are nervous they tend to hold their breath, which decreases oxygen levels and further increases feelings of panic. As in some meditation techniques, a focus on slow, regular breathing helps reduce stress levels.
  3. Listen to some tunes. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring along your favorite music and earphones.
  4. Watch what you eat and drink. Avoid caffeine before a dental appointment. Eat high-protein foods which – unlike sugary foods – produce a calming effect.
  5. Use hand signals. Empower yourself by agreeing on hand signals to communicate with your dentist. When you feel uncomfortable, signal the dentist to ease off or stop the procedure.
  6. Choose a low-stress appointment time. Select a time for your dental visit when you’re less likely to be rushed or under pressure. This might mean a Saturday or an early-morning appointment.
  7. Get some good reviews. If you’re looking for a dentist, ask friends and relatives for recommendations. A glowing review about a dentist from someone you trust can help reduce your anxiety.

Related reading

Last updated: March 2017

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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