How can I reduce my anxiety about going to the dentist?

If you are an anxious patient, make sure to clearly state this to your Dentist. Hiding your fear will only make things worse, as your Dentist wants to assuage your fears and help to assure you that she will do her best to make you comfortable. 

First, it is a good idea to discuss your concerns with the dental provider so that he or she can consider them when treating you. It can be helpful if you feel comfortable with the dentist and understand what is to be done and why. Also, you may wish to divide your care into manageable parts so that you are as comfortable as possible with the length of time in the chair.

Other ideas include the use of an IPod or MP3 player, or maybe bringing your own CD to be played in the office while your care is taking place. In addition, you may want to schedule an appointment earlier in the day to avoid having too much time to worry about what is to be done.

With time anxiety can be lessened or essentially eliminated, if you find the right dentist.

There are a variety of anxiety reduction techniques available to make your visit as comfortable as possible. The best way to address dental anxiety is to be honest with your dentist about your nervousness and to address them before treatment is started.

My experience has shown me there are three primary reasons for dental anxiety:

  1. The patient sensing a lack of control during the appointment.
  2. Inadequate pain management before, during, and after the appointment.
  3. The sights, sounds, or smells during treatment.

Once your dentist is aware of what triggers your anxiety, here are some of the techniques that can be used during your appointment:

  • Using agreed upon hand and/or verbal signals that you need your dentist to stop.
  • Making sure profound local anesthesia is obtained before treatment starts. Also, minimize your caffeine and smoking before the appointment as these habits are powerful stimulants which will only increase your anxiety and make getting numb for your appointment harder. After the appointment, making sure appropriate pain medications are prescribed.
  • Wearing headphones during the appointment.
  • Using nitrous oxide gas to manage mild anxiety. This is a very safe and the patient is able to drive to and from the appointment without worry of being impaired.
  • Using oral sedation such as Halcion to manage moderate anxiety. This is also a very safe and cost effective. However, the patient will need an adult escort to and from the appointment due to impairment.
  • Finally, using and IV sedation in an office setting or general anesthetic in a hospital setting for severe anxiety. While very effective in managing anxiety, this is also very expensive with anesthesia fees costing hundreds of dollars. Therefore, this method of anxiety reduction is usually reserved for complex or lengthy procedures.

Talk with your dentist about which anxiety reduction technique is right for you.

Do you ever get nervous just thinking about going to the dentist? You might be worrying unnecessarily. With dentistry's many advances, diagnosis and treatment gets more sophisticated and comfortable all the time.

It's often best to share your anxiety. If you're tense or anxious, tell your dentist and the dental staff. Getting your concerns out in the open will let your dentist adapt the treatment to your needs. Try to choose a time for your dental visit when you're less likely to be rushed or under pressure. For some people, that means a Saturday or an early-morning appointment. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring a portable audio player and headset so you can listen to your favorite music. During the dental visit you might try visualizing yourself relaxing on a warm beach. These positive techniques work wonders for many. Try them on your next dental visit.

People with dental fears and phobias have a number of options available to help them get the dental care that they need. The single most important way for a dentist to help a patient overcome their fears is to have open communication, learn what has caused a person to become fearful, be sensitive to the fearful person's needs, and take those fears very seriously. Once trust is established, fear virtually disappears.

In some cases, the dentist can prescribe a mild sedative such as Valium to take prior to the dental visit, and/or give nitrous oxide (laughing gas) during treatment. There are certain techniques that can also be effective. One technique is called systematic desensitization, where phobic people are exposed to various dental instruments and devices over time, until they became more familiar and less threatened by the dental environment. Another technique involved breathing and relaxation. I have found that these techniques are hardly ever needed for most fearful patients. In very rare instances with highly phobic patients, these methods may not be enough. For these patients, dental treatment under IV sedation or general anesthesia should be considered, despite the increased risks and expense.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.