Woman with long curly brown hair scared of the dentist as the dentist stands behind her holding tools.

Dental Phobia: What You Need to Know

Aileen Sideris General Dentistry

Dental phobia and anxiety are more common than you might think. Sometimes one bad experience in the past is enough to create a lifelong aversion to visiting the dentist. Other times, a fear of needles or medical procedures may create anxiety about the dentist too. Whatever the cause, you’re not alone—36% of Americans have some degree of fear about seeing the dentist. Here are some strategies to help you cope.


Understand Where Your Anxiety Comes From


Dental anxiety is so common, we even have a model to help explain it:

Fear and anxiety —> Avoidance of dental care —> Deterioration of dentition —> Feelings of shame, guilt, and inferiority

In other words, your fear causes you to avoid routine dental exams. This causes the condition of your teeth to deteriorate, which makes you feel embarrassed. This embarrassment brings you back to feeling anxious. The cycle repeats in an infinite loop.

Sometimes understanding this cycle—and that the only way to overcome your fear is to break out of the loop—is all it takes to conquer your dental anxiety. It might also help you to know that we see countless patients who haven’t been to the dentist in years. Their reasons may vary, but you don’t owe us an explanation. All we care about is that you’re in our office now to get the care you need. We’re willing to start with a blank slate if you are too; we’re not here to judge you, we’re here to help.


Talk to Your Dentist


When you have dental anxiety, it’s important to let your dentist and hygienist know before they start treatment on your mouth. You might only be scheduled for a hygiene appointment, but it’s still important to give everyone on the team a heads up. When you’re open with us about your phobia, it helps us serve you better. We’ll find a strategy for making your experience a positive and comfortable one. This may mean taking breaks when you’re feeling overwhelmed or talking to you throughout your procedure so you know what we’re doing and what you can expect. Don’t feel like you need to cope with your anxiety by yourself.


Distract Yourself


Some patients do better when they’re able to distract themselves during their procedure. Feel free to bring your phone and listen to music or your favorite podcast while we provide treatment. Depending on the treatment required, you may even be able to watch a movie or TV show. Bring a stress ball to squeeze if you fidget when you’re nervous.


Try Relaxation Exercises


While some anxious patients like to busy their minds, others need to clear their heads instead. Try deep breathing, an effective, research-backed coping mechanism for anxiety. Breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth; this can help relax your body and mind as you wait for your treatment to start and whenever your dentist takes a break. Progressive muscle relaxation can be done in the exam chair during your procedure without anyone knowing.

Ask About Sedation Options

At Ascent Dental Care, we offer our patients safe sedation dentistry options to help them feel calm and comfortable throughout their procedures. These include:

  • Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, which is inhaled through a mask and wears off quickly after your procedure is complete. 
  • IV sedation, which allows patients to sleep through dental treatment, but is not the same as the general anesthesia you’d have for major surgery at a hospital.
  • Conscious oral sedation, an option that combines an oral sedative with local anesthetic.

Schedule an Appointment Today

It’s time to break out of the dental phobia cycle. Our compassionate team will support you before, during, and after your visit. Contact us today at 413-224-1493 to make an appointment.