5 Effective Techniques to Finally Manage Your Dental Anxiety

By Dr. Sharon Dickerson DDS

Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think about going to the dentist? Does your heart start racing and your stomach turn just making a dental appointment? If so, you’re not alone. 

The problem is avoiding necessary dental work can seriously impact your oral and even overall health. But there are solutions. In this post, we’ll explore 5 proven techniques to help you finally manage dental anxiety, so you can get the oral care you need comfortably.

Understanding the Causes

First, know that your anxiety is valid. For many people, it stems from negative past experiences like insensitive dentists, painful procedures done without enough anesthesia, or feeling powerless and out of control. Even without direct negative experiences, the idea of someone working inside your mouth can seem frightening.

This evolutionary response protected us from danger in the past. But when it’s excessive, it prevents us from getting proper medical and dental care. The good news is dental anxiety is treatable.

How Common is Dental Anxiety?

You’re not the only one avoiding the dentist’s chair due to anxiety. Dental phobia is surprisingly prevalent:

Up to 15% of American adults report high dental anxiety.

Over 50% feel moderate anxiety about dental visits.

75% experience some nerves about certain procedures.

5-10% avoid dental care altogether due to anxiety.

Knowing just how common dental anxiety is can help you feel less alone. It’s a shared struggle, not a personal failing.

Start With a Conversation

If you suffer from dental anxiety, have an open conversation with your dentist’s office when you book your appointment. They likely have experience helping nervous patients and can make accommodations.

Explain your specific fears and past difficulties. Ask what they do to help anxious patients feel safe and comfortable. Many dentists have specialized training and techniques for this. Knowing they understand your concerns and have a plan to manage anxiety can help put your mind at ease.

Use Relaxation Techniques

When you arrive for your appointment, mention your anxiety again. There are many relaxation techniques dentists can use to help you stay calm:

  • Breathing exercises – Take slow deep breaths to lower stress. Picture your happy place.
  • Meditation/visualization – Imagine yourself feeling peaceful and relaxed.
  • Distractions – Listen to music or watch tv on provided headsets.
  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture needles in key points release calming endorphins.
  • Essential oils – Calming scents like lavender oil activate relaxation.
  • Physical relaxation – Massage dental chair with heating pads loosens muscles.

Experiment to find which techniques work best for you. I personally love headphones with peaceful nature sounds.

Use Numbing Medications

If part of your fear is pain from procedures, ask your dentist about numbing medications. These can make a world of difference in your comfort level:

  • Topical anesthetics – Gel or spray to numb surface of gums prior to injections.
  • Stronger anesthetics – More powerful agents block pain signals. Or double doses of regular anesthesia.
  • Oral sedatives – Anti-anxiety pills like Valium relax you before appointments.
  • Nitrous oxide – Laughing gas provides relaxation and pain relief.
  • Conscious sedation – IV medications induce deep relaxation and amnesia.

Don’t be afraid to speak up during the procedure if you need more numbing.

Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

For moderate to severe dental anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy can help retrain your thoughts and reactions. A mental health professional helps you confront fears and shift negative thought patterns.

With CBT, you learn coping strategies like guided imagery and exposure therapy. You start small facing less frightening dental situations, building up to full procedures. Research shows CBT effective for reducing dental fear long-term.

Tips for Parents of Anxious Kids

If your child gets extremely distressed about dentist visits, there are ways to make appointments easier:

Read children’s books about going to the dentist to familiarize them with what to expect.

Act out dental visits through pretend play, taking turns being the dentist and patient.

Consider pediatric specialists – they have extra training to put kids at ease.

Request the first appointment of the day when staff are less rushed.

Ask if you can accompany anxious kids into the exam room.

Try exposing kids to the office with a short introductory visit to meet staff before procedures.

Consider conscious sedation if anxiety is severe.

With patience and creativity, you can help your child build the coping skills to manage dental visits.

Pros and Cons of Dental Anxiety Management Techniques
TechniqueProsCons
Breathing ExercisesSimple, can be done anytimeRequires practice
MeditationReduces anxiety long-term with practiceDifficult at first
DistractionsEasy to implementDon’t address root of anxiety
AcupunctureDrug-free anxiety reliefNeeds repeated application
AromatherapyCalming without side effectsScent preference varies
Massage ChairImmediately relaxingPassive, expensive equipment
Topical AnestheticsQuick gum numbingBrief duration
AnesthesiaMost effective for painSmall risks from drugs
Oral SedativesTake at home before appointmentSide effects, impairment
Nitrous OxideMild anxiolytic and pain reliefSome nausea, must be monitored
Conscious SedationPotent anti-anxiety effectExpensive, risks, impaired
CBTTreats dental phobia long-termTime-intensive
Don’t Delay Necessary Treatment

Finally, don’t put off recommended dental treatment hoping anxiety will go away. Problems like infections, cavities, and gum disease only worsen without care. This can lead to more invasive procedures and expenses.

Commit to addressing your dental health. With some trial and error, you’ll find an approach that makes visits tolerable and even comfortable. Getting the care you need will improve your overall well-being.

Take the First Step

Don’t let dental anxiety control your health and happiness any longer. Take the first step toward relief today by contacting Dr. Sharon Dickerson.

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