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5 tools you can use to overcome dental anxiety

Try out these methods for easing dental anxiety so you can go into your next dental appointment with confidence.

Let’s face it: the idea of going to the dentist probably doesn’t excite you. 

A checkup or cleaning can feel invasive, tedious or just plain scary. And although you know it’s necessary, you wish you could avoid it altogether. 

In moments of fear, you might even ask yourself: is the dentist really worth it? 

The short answer is yes. The benefits of regular dentist visits go beyond a sparkling smile. 

Regular check-ups and cleanings can help detect any oral diseases, including oral cancer. They also prevent periodontal disease, which has been linked to heart disease if it goes unchecked.  

If your dislike for dental appointments reaches far beyond a minor annoyance, you may have dental anxiety. 

You’re not alone in your fear of the dentist. Dental anxiety affects about 30-40 million people. 

But the good thing about these high numbers is there is a lot of research on how you can overcome dental anxiety.  

Try out these tried-and-true methods for easing your dental anxiety and going into your next dental appointment with confidence.

Talk to your dentist about it

First and foremost, communicate with your dentist and their staff about your questions or fears. 

Most dentists have dealt with nervous patients before and will be prepared with some techniques to help ease your worries.

Let the office know when you make your appointment and when you arrive about any fears you have. Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist any questions about your procedure and the tools they’ll be using to help eliminate any surprises.

Ask for suggestions on what you can do throughout the appointment to communicate discomfort. Some dentists may suggest you raise your hand if you need a break from the cleaning or procedure. Don’t be afraid to let them know if you feel pain!

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a type of psychological treatment that helps you learn to recognize and eliminate negative thought patterns with the help of a trained therapist. 

In a study done by a team of German researchers, it was found that out of hypnosis, anesthesia, and individualized imagery, CBT proved to be the most effective way to overcome dental anxiety. 

Why is that? CBT addresses many thought processes that cause phobias by:

  • Re-evaluating a distorted perspective of reality (like thinking the worst is bound to happen).
  • Understanding the intentions of those around you.
  • Learning coping mechanisms for when fear arises.
  • Learning to self-soothe.

Breathing techniques

You may have noticed that your mood can affect your breathing patterns. But did you know it also works the other way around? 

That means you can adjust your mood simply by controlling your breathing patterns to match the mood you’d like to be in. 

Try one of these 2 breathing techniques the next time you’re in the dentist’s office and ease into feeling calm again:

Square breathing

Square breathing provides something to focus on while slowing down your anxious breathing.

  • Slowly breathe in as you count to 3.
  • Pause, hold and count to 3 a second time.
  • Exhale to the count of 3.
  • Pause, hold and count to 3.
  • Repeat as needed.

Belly breathing

When we panic, we tend to get the urge to continuously inhale and forget to exhale. By using the belly breathing technique, you can regulate your breathing and calm down. 

  • Place one hand on your lower stomach and the other on your breastbone.
  • Open your mouth and release a sigh, allowing your shoulders to relax with the motion of the exhale.
  • Pause, hold and count to 3.
  • Close your mouth and slowly inhale deeply through your nose. Breathe all the way down to your stomach.
  • Pause for as long as is comfortable.
  • Open your mouth and exhale from the stomach up.
  • Pause for as long as is comfortable.
  • Repeat.

Distraction techniques

Sometimes easing dental anxiety is as simple as taking some time to stop focusing on your fears, and shifting your attention to comforting things. Occupy all of your senses by trying the following:

  • Sight: if there’s a TV or nice view outdoors, try to focus on it. Try to make it entertaining. 
  • Sound: Refocus what you’re listening to from the tools and treatment to other pleasant things around you: music, the TV, a nice conversation etc. 
  • Touch: Check in with your body and be sure you’re as comfortable as possible before treatments. Feel free to ask for a pillow or other comforting items. 


If techniques like CBT, regulated breathing and chatting with your dentist don’t work, you may want to ask your dentist about sedation. 

Sedation is when a dentist uses anesthesia to ease dental phobia. You don’t have to be completely unconscious, as many types of anesthesia allow for partial consciousness or simply an ease of panic.

Between sedation, breathing techniques, distractions and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, you’re bound to find a way to overcome dental anxiety and schedule your next appointment. 

And no more dentist phobia means no more missing appointments. Congratulations, you’re on the right track to preventing these common mouth problems >

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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