Fear of going to the dentist is a common health-care related anxiety. Patients often express a broad range of triggers, such as the fear of pain, claustrophobia, needles, sounds, or sensations. At its most extreme, dental anxiety, dental phobias and fears of visiting the dentist can mean people put off, or even avoid altogether, vitally important routine dental care.

Undergoing dental treatment is a very multi-sensory experience. There is the feeling associated with having the teeth, lips, cheeks tongue and gums touched. There is the sound of the drill and suction. There is the taste of the gloves, instruments, and materials, the sight of the tools and instruments, and the smell that every dental practice seems to have. For some people, this can culminate in an overwhelming experience.

For others, it is a specific part of the dental experience that induces their anxiety. The most common of these are the fear of needles or injections, the sound or feel of the drill, and the experience of people within their personal space. In many cases, a previous dental experience (often as a child) has become the nucleus of the anxiety. In these circumstances, many patients report that the experience of pain and the feeling of powerlessness are the areas of greatest concern. Many dental procedures can be performed without the need of anesthesia, and there are new non-traditional forms of delivering local anesthesia that don’t involve a conventional syringe. Utilizing local anesthetic delivery devices can allow a patient to receive profound anesthesia painlessly. This technique is commonly combined with the use of a topical anesthetic that pre-numbs the area which needs to be anesthetised.

Dental anxiety can affect children and teenagers, too, with more than half of the children studied at aged 12 and 15 years old reporting ‘moderate anxiety’ about visiting the dentist.  Girls were also likely to report suffering from extreme dental anxiety across both age groups.

Tips for managing dental anxiety

  1. Tell your dentist

It’s really important to tell your dentist that you are worried or anxious about your dental treatment.  He or she will be able to make a plan which should help you manage your fears.  Dentists are used to dealing with nervous patients, and will have strategies to help you feel at ease.  The key thing is to find a method which works for you.

  1. Take a friend

Assuming there’s room, most dental practices will usually have no objections to a friend accompanying you into the surgery.  Having someone with you can often be reassuring, and lighten the mood.  Other people might opt for joint appointments with their children – an added incentive to keep your anxieties under control.

  1. Put yourself in control

Sometimes, anxiety comes from fear of the unknown, or expecting and anticipating pain and discomfort.  Discuss a strategy with your dentist beforehand which works for you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure.  Most dentists will ask you to raise your hand during the treatment if you want to pause at any time.  You may find that, once you feel in control, you can better manage your anxiety levels.

  1. Listen to music

It’s well-known that listening to music can relax and calm you.  Ask your dental practice beforehand whether you can take headphones and music to help occupy your mind.

  1. Practice relaxation techniques

Do consider mindfulness routines, counting exercises and breathing exercises if these types of relaxation techniques help you.  If you tell your dentist beforehand, they will do their utmost to accommodate any requests.

  1. Choose a good time

Select a time for your dental visit when you are less likely to be rushed or under pressure.