tips for coping with dental anxiety header image

Tips for coping with dental anxiety

We value each of our patients who we provide dental services for at our clinic, and we’re always happy to see you in our offices.  That said, we also appreciate the fact that most of you, for the most part, probably don’t enjoy visiting us in the same way.  After all, dental visits can be a bit nerve wracking and annoying, even if it’s just for a routine cleaning and checkup appointment.  You’re busy, and appointments probably aren’t the way you’d choose to spend your free time – and that’s ok.

Unfortunately, for some of us dental appointments are more daunting than for others, posing a real mental hurdle that can be tough to overcome.  Maybe you don’t like having the hygienist or dentist in your personal space, or you’re more than a little bit worried about the whole appointment process.  If this sounds like you, then it could be that you suffer from dental anxiety.


What is dental anxiety?


Dental anxiety is when a patient experiences fear, stress or anxiety associated with visiting the dentist.  Dental things like drills, needles, anaesthesia or even the dental setting in general can trigger unwanted anxiety. 

This anxiety is unpleasant to say the least and can lead to other complications as well.  For instance, being anxious to visit the dentist could mean that you put off making appointments or delaying treatments like bi-annual cleanings.


How to know if you’re suffering from dental anxiety


There are a few common signs and symptoms of dental anxiety which are often felt before or during a dental appointment.

Some well documented examples include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate or even heart palpitations (common with stressful situations)
  • Feeling weak or like you’re going to faint
  • Low blood pressure
  • Coping mechanisms such as biting fingernails, crying etc.
  • Inability to sleep when you know you have an appointment coming up
  • Unusual aggressive behaviour due to stress pressure

Tips on how to cope with dental anxiety


If it sounds like you suffer from dental anxiety, visiting the dentist could be a very unpleasant prospect.  However, visiting the dentist is a necessary part of taking care of your health and in most cases shouldn’t be a big deal (even if you don’t see it that way).  Luckily, stress is a highly researched topic and there are lots of ways to cope with the added stress.

Here are some of the main ways that you can try to control your dental anxiety and visit the dentist with a calmer state of mind.


breathing for anxiety coping at the dentist


Focus on breathing

Breathing exercises are a great tool for calming the mind and the body which you can do anywhere, at any time.  To calm yourself through breathing, you should start by getting yourself comfortable so that you’re not adding extra stress through tense muscles.  Then close your eyes and begin taking deep slow breaths – inhaling through your nose, holding for a couple seconds, then exhaling through your mouth.  Keep repeating this exercise until you regain your calm and sense of inner balance.  If you start to feel lightheaded, don’t worry because that’s normal, but it’s for this reason that breathing exercises shouldn’t be performed while say behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.


Practice meditation and relaxation techniques

If you feel the pressure is mounting, perhaps like while you’re sitting in the waiting room, you can use some basic meditation to feel better. 

In this case it’s all about shifting your focus away from the things that are making you feel anxious and thinking about something you can control or something positive.  An amazing technique is focus inwardly on your body and asking yourself to relax. 

The way it works is that you shift your focus around your body while making a conscious effort to release tension.  Start with say your feet, or your head, and move your focus around every muscle group in your body, mentally releasing the tension in each zone until your body begins to feel relaxed.  It’s a technique that can take a bit of practice, but you can use at anytime as well, so if you’re prone to anxiety, you should learn how to do it.


Bring a friend for support

Having someone you trust and feel comfortable with at your side can make a huge difference in your anxiety levels.  You’ll have someone to talk to for distraction and someone who’s positive energy you can use to find your own. 


women speaking with dentist about dental anxiety


Speak to our dental staff

Our clinic staff is accustomed to anxious patients coming in for treatments, and many of our own staff feel the same when it’s their turn in the dentist’s chair.  We encourage you to let us know if you have dental anxiety issues so we can help you overcome it or at least feel as at ease as possible.  What often helps our patients is understanding what will happen during the appointment and having their dentist confirm there’s no need to be worried.  It’s always a good idea to speak about dental anxiety – especially to your dentist.


Distraction is key

We touched on this earlier, but the less you think about anxiety, the easier it is to ward off.  That’s why bringing a friend or family member is a great idea, and a big reason many dental offices have TVs in the waiting and treatment rooms.  A distracted mind is usually a calm mind, and we don’t want anyone to be fearful of visiting us.


Sedation dentistry options

Sometimes your dental anxiety will be too much, and you need some outside help to get things under control.  Sedation dentistry is an option for helping patients with extreme dental anxiety be able to visit the dentist, but you’ll need to speak with your dentist about it before hand.  Sedation options include a mild oral sedative (taken an hour or so before your appointment), or nitrous oxide sedation (laughing gas), which will help keep you happy and comfortable without putting you to sleep. 


It’s important that you don’t let dental anxiety keep from visiting your dentist because a major part of long-term oral health is professional cleanings and checkups.  No matter how good your home care routine, there are things you always need a dentist for.  Regular checkups keep plaque buildup from occurring and makes sure any potential issues are spotted early on.  Without visiting us regularly, you’re putting yourself at greater risk of cavities, tooth decay and gum disease which could be easily prevented.

If you have any questions or concerns about your upcoming appointment, or visiting us in general, please don’t hesitate to contact your dentist for a quick chat.

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