Brush Away Your Anxiety: How to Overcome Fear at the Dentist


Dental anxiety is real. Nearly 60% of patients suffered from it in a study done at Isfahan Dental School in Iran. It’s so bad that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the textbook of psychiatric illness, actually lists a condition called “dental phobia.”

No matter how many of your nightmares have taken place at a dental office, you don’t have to live with this fear forever. There are understandable causes of this anxiety and simple tips to address it.

How can you overcome fear when it comes time to get your teeth checked? We’re glad you asked. Read on, and we’ll show you why you might be afraid and what you can do about it.

Some Causes of Dental Anxiety

The fear of the dentist isn’t a root fear. There are deeper fears this one masks. These fears are among some of the oldest and most common in human history.

Let’s review the fears that lurk behind a fear of dental work.

  • Helplessness and loss of control: When you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair, you’re vulnerable. Your mouth is open, and you’re at someone else’s mercy. It makes sense this level of powerlessness frightens us.
  • Fear of pain: You can usually trace this fear back to a previous dental trauma. Children are especially sensitive to dental work. If you ever had a less than careful dentist as a child, you may fear suffering similar pain as an adult.
  • Fear of needles: Not all dental work is routine. Sometimes, anesthesia is required, and that means needles. Amplify the fact that dentists inject this anesthesia into our mouths, and the fear can grow exponentially.
  • Claustrophobia: Dental work requires an invasion of personal space. Few of us are comfortable with that, but for some people, the level of intimacy at the dentist can cause full-blown panic.

Many of these fears are unfounded, based on myths and exaggerations of what takes place at the dentist. Learn more about dental myths before you go.

Tips to Overcome Fear at the Dentist

Despite the power of these fundamental fears, there are concrete steps you can take to mitigate them. Here are some tips for demystifying the dentist and learning to relax, which will help you live longer by keeping you healthier.

Bring a Friend

Go to your visit with a family member or friend who doesn’t share your fear. They can sit with you while you get your work done, and you can learn from their example to overcome your own fear.

Distract Yourself

Overcoming dentophobia doesn’t have to mean staring your fear in the eyes for the duration of your visit. Give yourself a break from the fear with comforting distraction. Use headphones to listen to pleasant music, a funny book on tape, or one of your favorite podcasts.

Take Breaks

If you tell your dentist about your fears, they can work with you to make the experience as painless as possible. This can include frequent breaks to get up, stretch, and walk around, so you avoid the feeling of being penned in.

Establish a Signal

Another benefit of clear communication with your dentist is developing a failsafe. Come up with a signal you can use that lets your dentist know you’re feeling too uncomfortable to proceed. Most often, this is a raised hand.

Brave Teeth Are Healthy Teeth

You can overcome fear of the dentist by putting these simple tips into practice. Most dentists are more than happy to work with you to alleviate your fears.

Once you’ve conquered your dentophobia, check out our other tips for living a healthy life.