Dental Anxiety: Is it all about surrendering control?

dental anxiety and control

Do you always get nervous or a stomach upset whenever you think about visiting a dentist? Do you keep on postponing a dental visit because you fear visiting the dentist? Does a negative dental experience haunt you? Do you suffer excessive fear and anxiety whenever you are in the waiting room to see a dentist? If you experience any of these things, you may be suffering from dental anxiety. It is real and affects millions of people around the world. Dental anxiety refers to fear, anxiety, and stress associated with a social setting. Having dental anxiety can often trigger a patient to postpone a dental visit or avoid it altogether.

However, avoiding the dentist always leads to more dental problems resulting in a big need for emergency or complex dental procedures. It can also fuel the existing dental anxiety resulting in a vicious cycle. The good thing is, dentists are highly cognisant of anxiety in patients and have ways to help such patients. There are strategies to alleviate dental anxiety successfully, and they help make dental appointments better for both the patient and the dentist. Some signs of dental anxiety include:

  • Trouble sleeping the night before a dental appointment.
  • Sweating and extreme nervousness while in the waiting bay.
  • The thought of going for dental treatment makes you physically sick, for instance, stomach upsets.
  • You feel like crying when you see anything associated with a dentist, especially white-coated staff and dental instruments.
  • You experience trouble breathing or panic whenever the dentist places a dental instrument inside your mouth.
  • Visible signs of distress.
  • Low blood pressure and sometimes fainting.
  • Avoiding the dentist altogether.

Patients with dental anxiety may routinely miss dental appointments and avoid them altogether, worsening the dental problem. There are many strategies doctors use to help patients with dental anxiety. Lets us look at some of them.


A dentist’s objective should be to alleviate dental anxiety so that the patient can deal with dental treatment in the short term and the future. It can be overcome with empathy through communication and sharing. When a dentist takes the time to listen to the patient, they feel accepted, welcome and relaxed. The dentist should encourage the patient to ask questions and verbally explain how the procedure takes place to eliminate misconceptions.


Letting the patient control the procedure by doing what works for them also works in alleviating dental anxiety. For instance, there is a difference between telling a patient to ”open wide” and ”let me know when you are ready.” The dentist also trains the patient on signals to indicate a stop during the procedure to take a break.


Offering the patient distractions such as headphones to listen to music or a TV to watch something is another way to cope with dental anxiety. For the less equipped dental facilities, offering a positive talk to the patient during the procedure is helpful.

Relative analgesia

Relative analgesia or happy gas also helps patients deal with dental anxiety by enabling them to relax. Many patients like the sensation it creates. It takes effect faster and also wears off quickly.

Other remedies include anxiety-relieving medication, general anesthesia, and conscious sedation.


Everyone can overcome dental anxiety if the dentist and all the other team members practice effective strategies to help patients overcome their fears.