Dental Phobia – Overcoming Dental Anxiety

If you are like me, I don’t look forward to dental appointments. The majority of the time, dental procedures aren’t painful due to modern anesthesia, but the thought of a visit to the dentist can cause me to have anxiety.

There are various degrees of dental anxiety and dental phobia. To the very extreme, someone with dental phobia may never set an appointment and see a dentist. They may also have an anxiety attack or feel extremely ill when thinking about visiting the dentist.

Others with dental anxiety struggle to go to the dentist and may panic days in advance, not sleep the night before out of worry, or freak out while they’re waiting for their appointment. Others feel incredibly uneasy and feel like it’s difficult to breathe when objects are around or near the mouth during a dental procedure.
There are numerous causes of Dental Anxiety or Dental Phobia. Here are the most common causes:

  • Feeling Loss of Control — There are a number of phobias in which people feel like they don’t have control – like flying in an airplane. When they sit in the dental chair, they have to remain still. They feel like they don’t know what’s going on around them and can’t predict what will happen next. Feeling helpless and not in control can trigger anxiety.
  • Embarrassment — People can feel embarrassed or ashamed to have a stranger look inside their mouth – seemingly judging them for their dental hygiene. Some people are self-conscious about how their teeth look in the first place and that can add to the embarrassment.
  • Loss of Personal Space — During dental procedures, the dentist, the dental assistant, or the hygienist’s face comes extremely close to the teeth making someone feel uncomfortable or anxious at the loss of personal space. If someone is uncomfortable with physical closeness to begin with, visiting the dentist could heighten that uncomfortable feeling.
  • Pain — Fear of pain is the main reason of dental phobia. If someone hasn’t been to the dentist in awhile, they may be thinking back to their early dental visits before a lot of the advances of “pain free” dentistry occurred. In a recent study, fear of pain is the most common reason of anxiety in adults 24 years and older.
  • Fear of Needles — A lot of people are scared of needles, especially one that goes in the mouth. Other than the fear of needles, some people are scared that the anesthesia won’t work to eliminate pain.
  • Bad Experiences — Someone who has had pain at the dentist, or discomfort during dental procedures will be more anxious during the next procedure.

How to Overcome Dental Anxiety

There are many ways to overcome dental anxiety. Here’s a few tips that I’ve found helpful in managing my anxiety and stress about going to the dentist.

Work With Your Fear

There’s a book called Fear Free Dental Care that has a step-by-step guide to overcoming dental phobia. This book describes the causes of dental fear and gives helpful solutions and tips to work through dental fears.

Trust Your Dentist

Talk to your dentist about your fears so that your dentist can accommodate and work with your worries instead of against them.

If you’re worried at feeling a loss of control, the dentist might suggest a hand signal you can give if you need to take a breather. If you’re worried about the anesthesia not working, the dentist could explain exactly how it works and answer any other questions you have. If you’re worried about not knowing what’s going on, you could ask that the dentist explain the procedure beforehand and also reexplain what’s happening at every stage during the procedure so that you can mentally prepare for what’s going to happen ahead of time.
If the dentist isn’t able to talk to you and work with your fears, find another dentist who will.

Review the Procedure with the Dentist

Have the dentist walk you through the procedure ahead of time so that you’re aware of what’s going to happen.

Take the Morning Off

Schedule your appointment when there’s no school, or when work isn’t so stressful. Don’t let the stress of everyday life overlap to cause you additional stress during your appointment.

Focus on Breathing

When worried or stressed, people typically hold their breath. Holding in the breath decreases oxygen flow which increases panic. Focus on slow natural breathing.

Be Mindful of What You Eat

Caffeine can stimulate your body and create feelings of panic. Sugar can also spike the blood and induce feelings of stress. Eliminating foods that temporarily alter your natural homeostasis can help you manage your anxiety.


During dental appointments, bring earphones to listen to music or your favorite podcast. Listening to music can help distract your mind and make it easier to tune out sounds at the dentist that could make you anxious.

Reward Yourself Afterwards

Intentionally goof off online, play a game on your phone. Color in a coloring book, or relax and take a bath. Overcoming worries and conquering your fears should be celebrated!

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  • The fear of pain is real – hah 🙂 ! I also hate if the room is all white – makes me anxious 😐 .

  • Amy - Page Traveller

    Eeek! I went to the dentist last week after a 2.5-year absence and was freaking out!

  • Marlene Wetch

    This is so helpful especially the tip of headphones. I wish I had thought of it when my husband needed to go in not too long ago and needed a sleeping pill to calm him down!

  • Shileen

    I love the headphone tip! I don’t get overly anxious, but surely isn’t my favorite thing to do … and I’ve had plenty of dental work over the years. I’ve noticed that I’ve developed coping skills while in the chair with little games I play to distract myself. But, again, the headphones idea is THE BOMB!! Thanks for a great post!!

  • Melissa Jellie

    I had w really wonderful dentist from childhood until I was about 20 and he retired. Ever since then I’ve had dental phobia in fear that the next dentist won’t be as wonderful.
    These are great tips!
    My boyfriend recommended me to his dentist and they have tvs on the ceiling to watch when they work on your teeth, so that was slightly comforting.

  • S.M.BoneyIV

    Thanks for the advice. I’m nervous to go to the dentist every time I make an appointment. For me it’s just bad experiences that make me cringe every time I think about it. It takes a lot of numbing medication to get me not to feel them drilling my teeth.

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