Today is our last installment on how to help people who struggle with going to the dentist. This article is meant to give helpful suggestions to adults who experience dental anxiety.

What to Do When Going to the Dentist Is Hard

(Pixabay / Jobbeat)

There are different levels of fear when it comes to seeing a dentist. Dental anxiety is the most common, and it is when people feel stressed about the idea of visiting the dentist but can often get through the appointment by incorporating some self-soothing strategies into their visit.

Dental phobia (also known as odontophobia or dentophobia) is a more advanced form of discomfort with dental visits. It is a debilitating fear of the dentist that, while far less common, can lead to panic attacks, sleeplessness, and possible fainting. While children most often exhibit dental anxiety and phobia, that fear can carry over into adulthood and prevent you from visiting the dentist as often as you should. Thus begins a self-destructive cycle of avoiding the dentist and preventative care, which can lead to developing painful oral health problems that require a dentist.

Why do I have dental anxiety?

People have dental anxiety for a variety of reasons, so it’s hard to issue a blanket statement for why dental anxiety exists. It could come from:

  • Fear of strange sounds, smells, tastes, or people
  • Oral aversions
  • Fear of pain
  • Previous negative dental experiences
  • Discomfort when your schedule is disrupted
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of being rushed or pressured
  • Fear of needles

What can I do to feel less anxious?

Luckily, there is a whole arsenal of tools that you can try to have a better experience at the dentist. Below are some that have a high likelihood of success:


As with any successful relationship, the most important thing you can do is communicate, communicate, communicate! You should let the receptionist know the very first time you call that you have anxiety about the dentist, and she may have some suggestions right off the bat for how to help.

Be completely honest with your dentist, and ask them for coping strategies that have worked for other patients. Don’t be afraid to ask for thorough explanations before and during the examination so that you have as much information as possible. Before sitting in the chair, you may want to mutually decide on some hand signals that you can use to alert the dentist to stop working and give you a breather. You might also ask your dentist to talk with you throughout the procedure to explain what he or she is doing. This may take away some of the uncertainty that is causing you anxiety.


We thoroughly believe that knowledge is power, so take some time to equip yourself before choosing a dentist. Read through online reviews for local dentists, and check out the dentist’s website for patient testimonials. You can also ask around to trusted family and friends to see which dentist they use and what they like and dislike about them. Once you think you’ve found a good fit, call to schedule a consultation with the dentist so that you can get to know him without the stress of having any work done.

Come Prepared

Once you’ve found a dentist that you trust, there are some things that you can do to set yourself up for the best possible experience.

  • Schedule: Before you even head to the office, choose a time when you will be most relaxed. Whether it be first thing in the morning or right after a hearty lunch, having control over when you go to the dentist can put some of your nerves at ease.
  • Distractions: Bringing something to distract yourself can be instrumental in helping you stay calm and composed. Some people like to listen to their favorite music or practice deep breathing strategies. Other people like to bring a stress ball or small fidget device to help keep their minds occupied during the exam. Still others listen to guided meditation and try to relax one part of their body at a time.
  • Additional Prep: It may feel a little counterintuitive to eat before going to the dentist, but it’s a great way to help calm your nerves. Stay away from high-sugar, high-caffeine foods, and instead choose healthy, high-protein foods. If possible, get to the office early and practice calming down in the waiting room by listening to funny audiobooks, calming music, or doing a guided meditation. You should also plan a treat for yourself after the dentist, whether it be a trip to a favorite bookstore, visiting a friend, or getting some good food.

Sedation Dentistry

If you still can’t quite stomach going to the dentist without some additional help, there are several options for sedation dentistry.

  • Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas): Laughing gas is very quick to administer and fast to wear off. It gives you a nice sensation and can help you calm down so that you don’t feel as anxious.
  • Local anesthesia: If you’re afraid of needles, this might not be the best option for you. That said, if you choose to have nitrous oxide before the local anesthesia, your fear of needles may be diminished. Local anesthesia delivers a numbing solution just to the area that is getting worked on and usually wears off in a few hours.
  • Oral anti-anxiety tablets: You usually take one or two tablets about an hour before your exam, and they can help you relax.
  • IV sedation: IV sedation means that the dentist or anesthetist puts a needle in your hand or arm that delivers a medication that puts you into a light sleep so you don’t remember anything. If you are anxious about the needle, you can always ask for nitrous oxide beforehand, so you aren’t so worried.
  • General anesthesia: General anesthesia means that you are going to be put all the way under, and most general dentists don’t do this in their offices. For general anesthesia, you will likely need to go to a hospital or a dental specialist to have your work performed.

Professional Help

Oral hygiene influences more than just your mouth. In fact, poor oral hygiene has been linked to different cancers, premature birth and low birth weight, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. If your fear of dentists is beyond what you can manage on your own, you may consider visiting a certified counselor or psychologist to help you come up with a reasonable solution. Your overall health depends on a clean, healthy mouth, and it’s important to seek out the help necessary to overcome any barriers to regular dental care.