Healthy Lifestyle

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How to ease your dental anxiety

Few people relish the idea of going to the dentist. Dentists prod and poke sensitive areas of the mouth, but their efforts are for the benefit of their patients.

Fear of the dentist's chair is not uncommon, and that anxiety prevents millions of people from seeking proper preventative dental care. The consequences of succumbing to those fears extend beyond pain or lost teeth. Diseases of the mouth have been linked to other ailments, including diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

A fear of the dentist may stem from past unpleasant experiences, such as a dentist with a poor chair-side manner, while others may fear the lack of control they experience while in a dentist's chair. According to Ellen Rodino, PhD, who has studied dental fear, lying down with a dentist hovering above you can be off-putting. Couple that  with the discomfort many people have when instruments that interfere with their ability to communicate are placed in their mouths, and fear of the dental chair does not seem so unreasonable.

Easing fears at the dental office involves communication with the dentist and his or her staff, as well as finding a dentist with whom you feel comfortable. Working through your fears of the dentist is an important step toward getting the oral health care you need.


According to the American Dental Association, authors of the study, "Gagging and Its Associations With Dental Care-Related Fear, Fear of Pain and Beliefs About Treatment" found patients who have a higher frequency of gagging problems during a dental visit are more likely to experience higher levels of dental care-related fear and fear of pain. They also may have more negative beliefs about dental professionals and dental treatment.

Patients should discuss their propensity for gagging with the dentist or hygienist in advance. Some dentists can recommend nose breathing and other relaxation techniques. Distractions, such as televisions in the examination room, also can help to relieve anxiety and the likelihood that you may gag while in the dentist's chair.

Dentist also may opt for smaller cleaning instruments or take other measures to reduce the liklihood of stimulating a gagging reflex.


The sounds of cleaning tools and drills elicit fear in many people. But ignoring or avoiding such sounds can help men and women conquer their fears of the dentist's chair. On your next dental visit, bring a pair of headphones and some favorite music to listen to while you're in the chair.


Some dentists cause unnecessary fear in patients because they assume every person in the chair has the same pain threshold. One person may be able to tolerate a tooth extraction without numbing, while another may need pain relief for a routine cleaning.

Fearful patients should make their needs and fears known. Speak to your dentist about what can be done to deal with the pain. Discuss the procedure and find out if novocaine or another pain reliever can be used. Although use of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, has diminished in dental practices, a dentist may offer medication to relieve anxiety or even sedate patients who are especially nervous.

Pain may be more tolerable if you ask the dentist to take frequent breaks or use a numbing agent on your gums. Dentists may prescribe a sensitivity-relieving toothpaste prior to certain dental procedures if your teeth are sensitive to hot and cold.


Patients can help themselves relieve anxiety by choosing appointment times that are convenient and at times when they're less likely to be rushed. An early-morning appointment or a weekend appointment may have patients in and out faster, which cuts down on anxiety-inducing wait time.

Choice of provider

Your choice of dentist may come down to who is in your health insurance network. Those with more flexible insurance plans may have more freedom when choosing a dentist. In either case, people should interview dentists and get recommendations from others to find a provider that will keep comfort and care in mind. Especially fearful individuals may need to use a dentist who specializes in sedation dentistry to make their visits more tolerable.

Avoiding the dentist because of perceived pain or other fears is unnecessary. Advancements in today's dentistry coupled with open communication can alleviate situations that cause anxiety.