Anxious About Visiting The Dentist? Experts Say These Are The Best Ways To Cope

If you feel nervous or anxious about going to the dentist, you're not alone. 

Dental anxiety is a common problem that can affect your oral health and well-being — but don't worry, there are ways to cope with dental anxiety and overcome your fear of the dentist. 

In this blog post, we'll share some tips and strategies that can help you feel more comfortable and confident at your next dental appointment.

Why you can trust us

Glen Dental Centre is led by 5 experienced, multidisciplinary dentists with over a century of combined experience. Together, they’ve worked with thousands of patients and seen firsthand how dental anxiety affects people — as well as how people can overcome their fear.

What causes people to have dental anxiety?

There are different reasons why people may experience dental anxiety. Some of the most common ones are:

  • A painful or unpleasant past experience at the dentist, or hearing horror stories from others or the media.
  • Fear of needles, pain, or anesthesia.
  • Embarrassment about the condition of their teeth or gums, or fear of being judged or shamed by the dentist.
  • Loss of control or feeling vulnerable when sitting in the dentist's chair with their mouth open.

This range of causes is one of the biggest challenges to addressing dental anxiety.

Since there are different reasons that people fear the dentist or dental experience, helping them overcome that fear isn’t always as simple as just prescribing one type of medication for every patient.

How can you cope with dental anxiety?

The good news is, whether you're visiting for a consultation, a routine cleaning appointment, or something like dental implant placement, that dental anxiety can be managed and reduced with some coping methods that can help you relax and feel more at ease.

Free options to try first

In many cases, it’s possible to get over dental anxiety without paying a cent. You create the right routine and environment for yourself, and before you know it your days of dreading dental visits are long gone.

Communicate your concerns to your dentist.

Let them know that you have dental anxiety and what triggers it. They can explain what they're doing, answer your questions, and adjust their approach to make you more comfortable.

You can also agree on a signal, such as raising your hand, that you can use to let them know if you need a break or want them to stop.

Practice breathing exercises, meditation, or guided imagery.

These techniques can help you calm your mind and body before and during your dental appointment.

You can breathe deeply and slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth, or focus on a positive or pleasant image in your mind. You can also use an app or a video to guide you through these practices.

Bring or ask for a distraction.

Having something to distract you from what's happening in your mouth can also help you cope with dental anxiety.

You can bring headphones and listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook that you enjoy. You can also watch TV or a movie if your dentist has one in their office. Or you can bring a friend or a family member who can keep you company and support you.

Take excellent care of your teeth.

This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but it’s true - one of the best ways to prevent dental anxiety is to avoid dental problems in the first place.

By taking good care of your teeth and gums, you can reduce the need for extensive or invasive dental procedures. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, use mouthwash, and visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.

Not everyone can just “get over” dental anxiety by themselves, and that’s okay. If you’ve tried some of the approaches mentioned above and they haven’t worked for you, there are potent medicinal and therapeutic techniques that you can try.

Ask your dentist about sedation.

You may need more than relaxation or distraction to cope with your dental anxiety.

Some dental offices offer different types of sedation dentistry, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedation (pills), or intravenous sedation (injection).

These can help you feel more relaxed or even sleepy during their treatment. Some dentists also use topical and local anesthesia to numb the area and prevent pain.

Consult a hypnotherapist.

While this technique is less common, hypnosis can be an effective way to reduce dental anxiety by creating a state of calmness and relaxation.

It involves working with a qualified hypnotherapist who can use suggestions to help you overcome your fear of the dentist.

Worried about pseudoscience? That’s fair — but both direct studies and meta-analysis reviews (studies that look at other studies over a longer period of time) have shown that this type of therapy can genuinely reduce fear and anxiety when it comes to dental visits.

In some cases, milder forms of self-hypnosis like listening to a recording or repeating affirmations to yourself can be successful as well (plus they have the added bonus of being free).

Is dental anxiety common?

Remember how we said “you’re not alone” at the beginning of this article?

You really aren’t!

According to some studies, dental anxiety affects as many as 1 out of 3 people in the general population, while 1 out of 10 people suffers from a more severe level of dental fear.

Just here in Canada alone, that means millions of people struggle with this challenge, and in some cases it prevents them from getting the proper oral healthcare that they need.

Are dental anxiety and dental phobia the same?

While there isn’t an official scale or symptom guide that’s used to distinguish between dental anxiety and phobia, dental experts do recognize that there are different levels of dental fear.

Generally, dental anxiety is less severe than dental phobia. Someone with dental anxiety might feel uncomfortable during treatment or at a dental office, but they’re generally still able to receive the oral healthcare they need.

It’s different for people with dental phobia - they avoid the dentist entirely, sometimes because the experience (or even the thought of it) makes them panic, other times because they’ve built up a mental barrier that deters them from getting dental care.

Is dental anxiety a mental disorder?

Yes and no. Dental anxiety isn’t a disorder all on its own, but it has been recognized by the World Health Organization’s ICD-10 system and the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

They refer to it as a specific or isolated phobia, which falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders.

You can beat dental anxiety!

Remember: going to the dentist is important for your oral health and overall well-being.

Don't let dental anxiety stop you from getting the care that you need and deserve. With these tips and strategies, you can cope with dental anxiety and get over your fear of the dentist.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Coquitlam, the Tri-Cities, or anywhere in Metro Vancouver to help you start feeling more comfortable with the dentist, get in touch with us — it’s our mission to give people smiles that they love, and that starts with helping them feel safe, relaxed, and well-cared for during every single visit.


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