Overcoming dental anxiety: tips and tactics

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Get tips to overcome dental anxiety, including talking to your dentist, using distractions or exploring other options.

Sometimes you get a phone call, or maybe an email, and the panic starts setting in. How has it already been six months? Dental anxiety is a very real phenomenon for adults all over the world.

Fear of dentist visits can keep patients from the oral care they need. The good news is that overcoming dental anxiety is possible, even for the most fearful patients.

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Where does dental anxiety come from?

There are quite a few adults in the United States who are afraid of going to the dentist. We sometimes think of these visits as a stressor for children, but adults also fear routine cleanings. About 15% of adults report feeling afraid enough of the dentist to skip regular visits.¹ Where does dental phobia originate from? The answer is far from a single source. Many elements of the dentist’s office can invoke feelings of stress, anxiety, and tension.

Common sources of fear for adults who dread the dentist

A number of things can go into the fear of dentist visits. Causes of dental anxiety include:²

  • Fear of pain

  • Fear of injection or that the injection won’t work

  • Fear of anesthetic side effects

  • Feelings of helplessness and loss of control

  • Embarrassment and loss of personal space

Why beating your dental phobia is worth it

If you are someone who experiences anxiety about the dentist, then you have likely skipped a routine cleaning, even a procedure. But, giving into fears about the dentist can be more harmful than you might know. There’s a reason the American Dental Association recommends going for preventative care and cleaning every six months.³

While many brush their teeth twice a day as recommended, some do not. Even still, those brushing twice a day are usually failing to do everything it takes to keep up proper oral hygiene at home.⁴ If a routine trip seems like too much to handle, then it’s even more complicated and cumbersome to have to go after developing something invasive and damaging like periodontal disease.⁵

In addition, some adults couple their fear of the dentist with confusion about what is dental insurance. If dental insurance hasn’t been accessible to you in the past, see how you can buy individual dental insurance.

Ways to overcome dental anxiety

One of the easiest ways to begin the process of beating anxiety about the dentist is to talk to your dentist about how you’re feeling.⁶ A lot of nervous patients who simply tell the dentist that they are nervous are immediately calmer and more likely to make it through a visit. Most dentists and hygienists will even be comfortable with a few breaks during the visit for you to collect yourself and stay relaxed.

Another popular way to practice healthy dental anxiety management is to bring something to distract you.⁷ A popular way some anxious patients make it through their visit is to bring headphones. Listening to music or a podcast during your visit might be enough to take your mind off being at the dentist. If a dentist needs your attention or ears for a part of the visit, then they will let you know.

You can also explore options with your dentist. If you haven’t been to the dentist for a while, you might be surprised to find topical gels are a popular way to numb parts of the mouth in some offices.⁸ Some procedures might warrant anesthesia, which could help with your anxiety by putting you under during the surgery.

Other forms of dental anxiety management

Other ideas to help you get over the fear of a dentist visit include:⁹

  • Work your way up to a surgery by stopping in for a few check-ups and consultations

  • Create a signal with your dentist that expresses when you’re feeling anxious so they can either pause what they are doing, or talk to you and help distract you

  • Bring a friend or family member to the appointment for emotional and social support

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201802/how-overcome-dental-anxiety, 2018

  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11176-dental-phobia-in-adults, 2017

  3. https://www.ada.org/en/press-room/news-releases/2013-archive/june/american-dental-association-statement-on-regular-dental-visits, 2013

  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/brushing-your-teeth/faq-20058193, 2019

  5. https://www.perio.org/consumer/prevent-gum-disease (Last accessed February 2020)

  6. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/anxiety (Last accessed February 2020)

  7. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dental-fear-our-readers-suggest-coping-techniques-20100825327, 2016

  8. https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/blog/top-ten-tips-for-beating-dental-phobia/, 2019

  9. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/fear-of-the-dentist-help/, 2018


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