Researchers estimate that 50 to 80 percent of adults in the United States have dental anxiety, varying from mild to severe. Worrying about dental appointments can cause you to reschedule appointments or avoid going to the dentist altogether. If you have anxiety about going to the dentist, how can you control it and start feeling confident about your smile?

How Can You Handle Dental Anxiety?

You can handle anxiety at the dentist by taking steps to identify the cause of your anxiety and developing an action plan to prevent it from overwhelming you. We will explain nine steps that can help:

  1. Understand the cause of your anxiety
  2.  Identify your triggers
  3.  Find a dentist who listens
  4.  Talk about it
  5. Learn about your procedure
  6. Use relaxation techniques and distractions
  7.  Ask about sedation
  8. Do not give up
  9. Explore an alternative to in-office visits

1. Understand the Cause of Your Anxiety

Sometimes the fear of the dentist is so overwhelming that you cannot remember when it began and what caused it. But understanding the cause can help you overcome it. The July 2014 article, Why Are People Afraid of the Dentist – Observations and Explanations, cites reasons for dental anxiety, including:

  • Previous traumatic dental experiences
  • Family members or peers’ traumatic dental experiences
  • The media
  • Personality traits
  • Cognitive ability

Also, many people say they are anxious at the dentist because of other fears, including:

  • Pain
  • Loss of control
  • Lack of personal space
  • Embarrassment over the condition of their teeth

After you understand the reasons for your anxiety at the dentist, think about what triggers it.

2. Identify Your Triggers

Dental anxiety triggers are things that ignite or increase your anxiety.
Common triggers:

  • Dental drills
  • Needles
  • Lack of communication from the dentist or staff
  • A hurried approach to your care
  • Words, such as “pain” or “shot”
  • Long wait times

3. Find a Dentist Who Listens Well

Many people who avoid dental appointments are afraid that the dentist will not listen to them. So, find a dentist who wants to know why you are anxious and will strive to avoid your triggers. You can schedule a consultation to find a dental team willing to work with your anxiety.

4. Talk About It

Tell the dental team—receptionist, hygienist, assistant, and dentist—about your anxiety and what triggers it. When the team interacts with you, they will be sensitive to what sparks or increases your stress. Also, the American Dental Association recommends talking to your dentist about your pain tolerance.

Discuss how the dental team can give you a sense of control during treatment by using these methods:

  • Amenities to help you feel comfortable in the dental chair
  • Agreeing on a signal that you will use when you want the dentist to stop
  • Options for shorter appointments or phased treatment

5. Learn About Your Procedure

Sometimes lack of knowledge or understanding about a procedure creates anxiety. So, before you agree to any treatment, consider ways to increase your comfort level:

  • Ask your dentist for details about the procedure.
  • Ensure you understand why you need treatment.
  • Ask about treatment alternatives and what you could expect from them.
  • Discuss how much detail you want from the dentist and his assistant during your procedure.

6. Immerse Yourself in Distractions and Relaxation

Dentists who cater to anxious patients offer distractions during treatment or allow you to bring your own. You can also practice relaxation techniques before and during your appointment.

Distractions And Comfort Items

Talk to your dentist about ways to increase your comfort:

  • Bring headphones for listening to music.
  • Get comfy with a blanket.
  • Rest on a neck pillow.

Relaxation Techniques

Before your dental visits, try methods that may help you relax:

  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Squeeze a stress ball.
  • Think about your favorite activity, vacation, or place.

Also, schedule dental visits at a time of day when you are most relaxed and do not have to rush to another appointment.

7. Ask About Sedation

After your efforts to handle dental anxiety, you may decide that you need more help to relax. Speak with your dentist about sedation options. Commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication can further calm you and help you get dental care.

Sedation Options

Ask your dentist for details about each option and what you can expect before, during, and after sedation dentistry.

  • Nitrous oxide – Also called laughing gas, you can breathe in nitrous oxide during treatment. It will give you a tingling sense of well-being. When your appointment is complete, your dentist will quickly reverse the effects with pure oxygen.
  • Oral conscious sedation – A mild sedative can calm you throughout your procedure. You may drift off to sleep. Arrange for transportation to and from your dental visit.
  • IV sedation – Fast-working sedation will relax you so much that you probably will not recall what happened during your dental visit. It also requires transportation to and from your appointment.

8. Do Not Give Up

Try not to get discouraged or overwhelmed if you breeze through one dental appointment but struggle with the next one. In a Psychology Today article on overcoming your worst fears, Seth Gillihan, Ph.D., emphasizes not giving up if you experience ups and downs with anxiety. Gillihan’s reminder is, “We’re humans, not machines. Our reactions will depend on many variables and won’t always be the same.”

Keep working with your dental team to handle your anxiety. They likely work with hundreds of anxious patients and varying levels of anxiety. So, as you build confidence in your dental team, be open to their suggestions for helping you relax.

9.  Consider an Alternative to In-Office Dental Visits

When it comes to dental visits, many patients agree that location matters. Some dental practices, including In Motion Dentists in La Verne, California, offer dental care in a location that is comfortable and convenient for you, including:

  • Home
  • Office
  • Hotel

Although most dental insurances will not provide benefits for house-call dental fees, many patients find that this alternative is their answer to handling anxiety at a dental office.

Are You Ready for a Relaxing Dental Visit?

If you live near La Verne, California, and struggle with dental anxiety, In Motion Dentists welcomes you. It is our pleasure to give you comfortable, relaxing dental experiences—in the office, at home, or wherever you want. Call us at (626) 594-0374.