Dental anxiety and the fear of going to the dentist are much more common than you might think. Nearly 20% of adults experience dental anxiety so severe that it keeps them from going to the dentist. This is unfortunate and leads to what I call the vicious cycle of dental anxiety.

The cycle looks like this: Fear of the dentist leads to fewer trips to the dentist, resulting in small problems going unnoticed and untreated. This leads to more serious issues, which typically require more advanced treatment. Bigger treatments lead to even more anxiety, which leads to even less dental care. And on and on it goes.

If you suffer from dental anxiety, Dr. Dooley is here to help. You can have a beautiful, healthy smile even if you’re nervous about visiting the dentist — we promise.

What causes dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety is different for every person.

For some, this anxiety is caused by a fear of painful dental procedures or a fear of needles. We like to tell patients dental technology has come a long way in the past 10-15 years. Today, thanks to advancements in equipment and techniques, dental procedures are much less invasive than ever before.  

Research also shows that many people are scared by the lack of control they feel while sitting back in a dentist’s chair. For some, this leads to feelings of claustrophobia and causes panic. That’s why the best dentists are happy to take procedures slow, allowing for break times and asking you to signal if you ever become uncomfortable.

Whatever causes you anxiety, know your feelings are valid. No dentist will get mad at you for getting nervous. Our job as your care provider is to offer the most comfortable experience to help you overcome these fears and feel confident and relaxed during your appointments.

Tips for overcoming dental anxiety

Work with the right dentist

The key to dealing with dental anxiety is to choose a dentist who fits your needs. With that in mind, your first order of business is to find a dentist and team you feel comfortable with. 

This will be different for everyone, but we’ve found that patients tend to feel the most at ease when working with a dentist who…

  • Does not judge your dental health or make you feel bad about your choices
  • Is focused on making sure you’re comfortable
  • Uses high-tech and minimally-invasive techniques
  • Is highly communicative, listens to your questions, and lets you know what to expect
  • Offers sedation dentistry options

When you schedule your appointment, let your dental team know that you suffer from dental anxiety. A good dentist will always provide a positive experience, but will also be happy to make special accommodations to ensure you’re relaxed.

Try exercising ahead of your appointment

Have you ever heard of a “runner’s high”? It’s the release of endorphins during exercise. Believe it or not, exercising before your dental appointment can reduce anxiety and help you feel calmer and more at ease. Here’s how it works:

  • Increased endorphin levels can act as natural painkillers and make you feel relaxed and content, instead of worried and anxious
  • Increased serotonin and norepinephrine levels will make you feel much less stressed

There’s no need to do an intense workout. Even just a light or moderate exercise like a brisk 15-minute walk can help.

Calm your body and mind
During your dental appointment, focus on calming your body and mind. To minimize your feelings of physical anxiety and feel more at ease, try:

  • Deep breathing Take slow, steady deep breaths and consciously remember you’re not in danger. Try counting each breath and focus on filling your lungs with each breath in, and emptying them completely every time you breathe out.
  • Eliminate muscle tension: Where is the stress in your body? Your neck? Shoulders? Back? Legs? As you breathe, imagine your muscles relaxing and tension evaporating from your body. The key is to visualize your body relaxing!
  • Listen to music: Your favorite music can reduce anxiety during your appointment. It can also drown out sounds which might contribute to your dental anxiety. Ask if your dentist allows music during appointments.
  • Bring a friend or family member: Being accompanied by a friend or loved one can help you feel more comfortable before your appointment.

Ask about sedation dentistry

Sedation dentistry isn’t just for advanced treatments and dental surgery. Oral sedation and nitrous oxide can help you eliminate any discomfort, feel relaxed, or even fall asleep during your appointment. And if you have a larger procedure scheduled, IV sedation may be the perfect choice.

If you experience moderate to severe dental anxiety, it’s worth talking to your dentist before your appointment about whether or not sedation dentistry techniques would be beneficial.

A few more strategies for minimizing dental anxiety

1. Get plenty of sleep. Being anxious can lead to feelings of exhaustion.

2. Eat nutritious foods. Don’t skip dinner or eat too much junk food, which can actually make your anxiety even worse!

3. Write down your fears or speak your worries. Sometimes this can help you take a more objective look at what’s causing your anxiety and help you realize they aren’t as scary as they might seem.

4. Make yourself laugh!  Watch your favorite funny movie or TV show, play with your pets, or do something to make you laugh. Laughter reduces anxiety. It’s a fact!

Dr. Dooley can help you overcome dental anxiety

At Cedar Village Dentistry, we believe patients should never have to experience unnecessary anxiety or worry during their appointments.

Dr. Dooley is here to listen to your fears will work with you to develop a plan to get the care you need. Our whole office staff is trained to help minimize your anxiety from the moment you walk in the door. We’ve worked hard to create a welcoming, relaxing, and friendly environment. Plus, we offer sedation options to ensure your comfort.
Let us know how we can help