Dental Anxiety & Phobia - How To Overcome Dentist Fears

girl in dental chair with a fear of the dentist

Fear of the dentist keeps thousands of people from getting the dental care they need each year. Rest assured, if you have dental anxiety, you’re not alone. There are dozens of reasons why people avoid seeing the dentist or put off the dental treatment they need.

But it’s only a matter of time before you see dental anxiety, high blood pressure, and overall dental phobia turn into problems like abscessed teeth and severe toothaches. Once you understand how to get through dental anxiety, dental procedures will be easier to relax through and complete on a timely basis.[1]

What Is Dental Anxiety 

Sometimes called “white coat syndrome”, dental anxiety is when you experience symptoms like an increased heart rate, sweating, respiration, and elevated blood pressure. Even if your dentist is a person you’re friends with in normal day-to-day life, dental anxiety is that suffocating, panicky feeling you get when it’s time to walk into the dentist’s office or lay back in their dental chair.

Your anxiety may range from mild nervousness to such severe dental phobia that you’re at the point where you won’t even call the dentist if you’re in pain. For obvious reasons, not being able to see the dentist can lead to some pretty serious side-effects.[2]

Why Do I Have A Dental Phobia? 

Dental anxiety, high blood pressure, and aversions to the dentist’s office can be brought on by things like:

Fortunately, a lot has changed in the dental industry as a whole when it comes to dental anxiety treatment options. Most dentists are well aware that people don’t like coming to see them. After all, we hear “I hate the dentist” the moment someone sits down in our chair, day in and day out. (That’s where I chime in with, “Good thing I’m the hygienist and not the dentist, then!”)

But I digress. Since so many people are vocal about past bad experiences or fear of the dentist, more dentists than ever are working to provide gentle care that minimizes or totally eliminates the anxiety factor for their patients.

How To Overcome Dental Anxiety 

There are a lot of different things you can try when it comes to managing dental anxiety. Dental treatment options might include:

1) Wear Earbuds During Your Dental Treatment 

Listening to music is a great way to tune out what’s going on around you. Some dental offices provide headphones! If you need a simple distraction, try loading up your favorite playlist and popping in your headphones once your dental appointment gets started. A dark pair of sunglasses can also lower all of the stimuli you’re exposed to.

2) Asking Your Dentist About Sedation 

Sedation is there for a reason! From mild nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to IV anesthesia where you feel like you’re daydreaming through the whole visit, getting sedation prevents you from having to avoid medically necessary dental care.[3] That way you can save money, cut back on how much treatment you need, and complete everything in one sitting.

3) Scheduling Fewer, Shorter Visits First Thing In The Morning

Going to the dentist first thing in the morning means you won’t have all day to sit and feel anxious about it. And if you know the visit is only going to run 30 minutes or so, you’ll be in and out before you have a lot of time for your blood pressure to get worked up.

4) Being Open With Your Dental Team

The better you communicate with your dentist and their staff about your concerns, the better they can work to help you feel comfortable. You don’t have to pretend like your dental anxiety doesn’t exist. If you know a specific issue is challenging for you (such as taking X-rays or having someone else’s hands in your mouth) just communicate those during your dental appointment.

5) Understand What Is Happening 

The video below is a full cleaning from the patient's point of view. Many people experience a sense of relief when they know what to expect from a routine cleaning before they ever sit in the dental chair.

Overcoming Dental Anxiety  

Believe it or not, a lot of dentists got into the dental field because they also grew up having a dental phobia or dental anxiety, and they want to change that for people. One of the most important things I wish people with dental anxiety, high blood pressure, or “white coat syndrome” knew is that it’s totally normal to feel nervous about seeing a dentist.[4] But the key is to see your dental team regularly enough so that they can catch issues before there’s a chance for them to get worse.