Overcoming Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety is a fear or anxiety associated with going to the dentist. And although most of us would prefer to spend our time anywhere else than seeing our dentist, the truth is that having a healthy mouth is a vital part of our overall good health.

If you suffer with dental anxiety, you are not alone. There are many reasons why people have dental anxiety and no two people are the same, however, ultimately, anxiety can lead to avoiding the dentist altogether which can compound any existing oral health issues. Some people have generalised anxiety or a fear over loss of control, whilst others may fear the cost, the unknown or have a phobia about needles or pain.

Whatever the cause, understanding your individual needs and tailoring your dental care to your particular needs is the key to successfully overcoming anxiety. It’s worth developing a plan with your dentist to help you feel more comfortable. Their help will support you to manage your anxiety and reduce the likelihood of delayed visits.   

So what can you do if you feel anxious about going to the dentist?

I really don’t like going to the dentist – what could help?

  • Naming the fear is often one of the best first steps as well as trying not to hide from it. Even before your visit, let the centre know you are feeling worried. Remember, they genuinely want to help you.
  • If possible, make an appointment for a quieter time at the surgery. Avoid sitting for long periods in the waiting room. Ask the receptionist to let you know if your appointment is likely to be delayed.
  • Talk with your dentist and be upfront about how you’re feeling. Being open could be helpful in identifying your individual triggers and working out a treatment plan you’re comfortable with. Plan for a stop or pause signal during treatment to the dentist so they know when you need a break.
  • It may help to make your first appointment a simple ‘getting to know you’ and meeting your dentist which doesn’t involve an examination. This will help to build trust and highlight particular areas of concern.
  • If you’ve had a bad dental experience in the past which is the source of your anxiety, talk about this. Open up ways of communicating with your dentist where you feel comfortable and transparent.
  • Practice before your appointment so you feel confident doing these. Speak with your dentist about sedation options which may be useful for you. These can be useful when other distraction and relaxation strategies are not effective. Bring some relaxation music or guided meditation and listen through your headphones while you wait for your appointment. Deep breathing, distraction and guided imagery can all be helpful.[1]  
  • Make your next appointment before you leave the surgery or book an appointment online. Plan this for a time not too far into the future so you can build on the skills you’ve used already.
  • Plan for something fun and enjoyable after your appointment and bring someone you trust with you to the appointment. Reward yourself for confronting your anxiety.

Remember- Regular dental checks help to identify problems in the early stages.  Delaying appointments and treatment often leads to more extensive dental problems.

[1] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dental-anxiety-and-phobia

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