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7 ways to manage your anxiety about going to the dentist

More than one in three Americans suffers from dental anxiety. 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 or even the smell of the dental office. Even simply interrupting a daily routine to visit the dentist visit may create 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.

If your anxiety is preventing you from getting the care you need, you should have a frank discussion with your dentist about your fear. As health care professionals, dentists are trained to treat patients who have anxiety, and yours can suggest safe and comfortable techniques to make your dental care less stressful.

Tips for staying calm when you visit the dentist

If you’re nervous about an upcoming dental visit, try these tips 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 your breathing 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.

Last updated November 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.