how to overcome dental anxiety

Estimates show that fifty to eighty percent of adults in the United States have dental anxiety, ranging from mild to severe. Missed or canceled appointments and declining oral health are the results. How can you overcome—or at least manage—it if you have dental anxiety? We will explain how dental anxiety affects patients, how you can help yourself, and how sedation dentistry can help.

What Is Dental Anxiety?

Dental anxiety is a physical or emotional reaction to thoughts of dental visits or in-person visits. Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to stress. Although dental anxiety affects each person differently, emotional responses may include these feelings:

  • Dread
  • Fear
  • Uneasiness
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances

Physical responses from dental anxiety may include:

  • Trembling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

How Can You Overcome Dental Anxiety?

You can overcome dental anxiety by understanding why you are anxious and what triggers it. Then, talk to your dentist about it and be willing to try your dentist’s suggestions for minimizing your fear.

1. Understand Why You Are Anxious

For many dental patients, traumatic childhood experiences at the dentist or painful appointments as an adult make them afraid of dental appointments. Understanding why you are anxious can help you find ways to cope. If you relate dental appointments to traumatic experiences, look for a dentist with a reputation for a compassionate chairside manner and gentle techniques.

2. Talk About It

Schedule consultations with at least two dentists and explain your anxiety. Each dentist’s reaction can give you a glimpse of how they react to you as their patient. Dentists who regularly see anxious patients will listen closely, ask questions, and explain how their practice will ensure your comfort. Also, the American Dental Society encourages you not to be afraid to ask questions about your dental procedure. Increased knowledge and understanding of dental treatment calms fears for many patients.

3. Identify Your Triggers

Does the sound of a drill, the smell of a dental office, or seeing dental instruments trigger anxiety? If so, explain those factors to your dentist. Dental offices that cater to anxious patients work to avoid your triggers to help you remain calm.

4. Take Advantage of Distractions

During your dental visit, take advantage of distractions your dental assistant or hygienist offers. Listening to music or watching a program on an overhead TV can change your focus with something pleasant.

5. Avoid Criticizing Yourself

Anxieties and phobias are real. Avoid criticizing yourself if one dental appointment goes well, but you panic about the next one. The more positive dental experiences you have, memories of the negative ones are less likely to keep you out of the dental chair.

Try Sedation Dentistry

Sedation dentistry uses anti-anxiety medication to help you relax. In addition to local anesthetic to numb your teeth and gums, sedation decreases pain sensitivity. Each dentist varies in the level of sedation offered depending on their training and skill level. Dentists who use sedation must meet state requirements for training and continuing education. Sedation types include:

  • Nitrous oxide – Colorless odorless gas (laughing gas) gives you a tingling sense of well-being.
  • Oral conscious sedation – An anti-anxiety pill to take about an hour before your appointment. Sometimes, a dentist may prescribe bedtime medication.
  • IV sedation – Fast-acting sedation through a vein will relax you deeply.
  • General anesthesia – Oral surgeries may require it, and so may patients with intense anxiety due to medical conditions. Administering general anesthesia requires additional certification and licensing that meet state requirements.


Dental anxiety is common, but you can manage your fear. Understanding why you are anxious, talking about it, and understanding your triggers can help you cope. But it is helpful to search for a gentle, compassionate dentist. Begin with consultations to avoid feeling pressured to commit to an appointment before you feel comfortable. And consider sedation dentistry—a safe way to keep you relaxed and have positive dental experiences?

You Can Trust Vancouver, WA Dentist Dr. Saleh

If you have dental anxiety and live near Vancouver, Washington, you can trust Dr. Mo Saleh. Dr. Saleh is a certified sedation dentist who will meet with you to understand the reasons for your anxiety level. Dr. Saleh will tailor a treatment plan to help you relax and get the care you need. Patients travel from Oregon for Dr. Saleh’s gentle, compassionate care. Schedule a consultation today.

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