Fear of going to the dentist is a common problem for many people.  Patients who suffer from dental anxiety often skip routine cleaning appointments or postpone necessary treatments which precipitates more serious and costly issues down the road.  Even with a healthy diet and a rigorous oral hygiene routine, tartar and calculus can still develop and build up, which may lead to cavities and gum diseases.  Prevention is the most inexpensive and least painful way to address dental treatment.  Here are some tips to help you overcome your fear of dentistry. More information can be found at Dental Fear Central.

 1.   Speak up

Let our patient coordinators know that you experience dental anxiety when making the appointment.  Tell us the origin of your anxiety (a past bad experience, the sound of the drill, fear of needles…) so that our dental team can help mitigate your anxiety and identify coping strategies. Your dentist will walk you through all the steps in advance and answer any questions you may have regarding the treatment. You may also request a running commentary about what is about to happen, what sensations and sounds to expect, and how long each step will take.

2.   Time of the appointment

Make an earlier appointment if possible so you don’t have too much time to dwell on it. Do not arrive too early if waiting for your appointment makes you more nervous.  Some of our patients use that time to meditate, which can alleviate anxiety.

3.   Signal

Perceived helplessness is a big source of dental phobia.  Both the fear of injection and concerns that the anesthesia may not work add to the anxiety.  Agree on a signal with the provider before the treatment begins if you need to take a break during the appointment. 4. Comforting object

Bring a comforting object such as a stuffed toy for a child, a stress ball or fidget widget. Some people find a weighted blanket to be soothing.

5.   Distraction

Wear headphones to block out the drill noise.  Listen to funny stories, soothing music or your favorite podcast.  Some patients distract themselves by listening to our dental assistants carrying on a conversation topic of their interests.   For most kids, watching cartoons is a good way to occupy their attention.  Each operatory at our office is equipped with a TV which can provide both entertainment and distraction.

6.   Deep diaphragmatic breathing

Deep breathing slows your heart rate and relaxes your muscles.  Practice deep breathing exercises while waiting for your appointment in the lobby and before the treatment begins.  You can try breathing in deeply through your nose while counting slowly to 5. Hold your breath for a second and exhale slowly through your mouth.  Repeat the cycle 4 to 5 times.

7.   Progressive muscular relaxation

Slowly contracting groups of muscle for 5 to 7 seconds and then relaxing them can ease your anxieties.  Four sample muscle groups are:

  • Feet, calves, thighs and buttocks
  • Hands, forearms and biceps
  • Chest, stomach and lower back
  • Head, face, throat and shoulders

8.   Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas”, can reduce anxiety and ease the patient’s fears of a procedure with minimal side effects.  Do keep in mind that most insurance plans do not cover nitrous oxide application.

9.  Take anxiety relief medication before dental visits

Diazepam (Valium) may be prescribed when other strategies have failed.  The patient will take one dose the night before and another dose about an hour before their procedure.

Mark, A. M., JADA Vol. 148, Issue 2, p130, Feb 1, 2017, Coping skills for facing dental fears