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How To Help Patients With Dental Anxiety

Author: Dr. Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo

Dr. Greg Grillo

04.24.19 / 1:24 pm

We all know people who struggle with going to the dentist. Maybe it’s a close friend or family member. Maybe it’s a patient who you can just see would rather be anywhere else. Well the phenomenon of “dental anxiety” goes beyond such anecdotes: studies have shown that anywhere between 9% and 20% of Americans actively avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety about the appointment.

As practitioners, it’s our duty to make sure that our patients feel as relaxed and comfortable as they can when they’re in our office, waiting room, or operating table. After all, if someone doesn’t have a positive experience at your office, they’re not going to come back in 6 months and their important dental care will fall by the wayside.

 Here are a few things you can advise your patients to consider if they’re dealing with fear or dental anxiety.

Strategies to Manage Dental Anxiety

Deep breathing is still one of the best ways to manage any kind of anxiety, which generally causes hyperventilation and panic. If you have a patient who seems uncomfortable during their appointment, take a moment’s pause and advise them to try some basic deep breathing exercises before you continue.

 Distractions in the operating room can keep patients’ minds off of any discomfort or fear they’re experiencing. Having a television in the room is becoming more popular, but allowing a friend or family member to be in the room during the checkup is also very helpful, especially for children who experience dental anxiety.

 Laughing gas and other forms of medication are of course the most popular ways to calm patients and treat more severe dental anxiety that is actively interfering with an appointment or procedure.

 Sometimes, dentists and their patients will work out hand signals beforehand to help cope with anxiety. For example, telling a patient to hold up a closed fist if they want the current procedure to stop. Just knowing they have the power to halt discomfort at any time can help patients cope with dental anxiety, even if they never end up using the hand signal.

Strategies to Manage Dental Phobia

Extreme dental anxiety, usually caused by past trauma during an encounter with a dentist or health care professional, is known as “dental phobia.” Dental phobia is unlikely to be assisted by something as minor as deep breathing or playing music in the room. This is usually when a patient needs to consider general anaesthesia, stronger anti-anxiety medications, and other forms of sedation dentistry.

Understanding The Causes Of Dental Anxiety

Ultimately, if you have a patient who fears going to the dentist, there’s more than likely some reason for it. There’s the obvious stressors: the bright lights, the clinical environment, letting relative strangers poke around in your mouth for an hour. Many dental procedures involve a certain amount of discomfort or even pain, and while your patients may understand logically that you’re doing these things for their own long-term health and happiness, it can be hard to look past the emotional discomfort involved in the short-term. And the portrayal of dentists in popular culture certainly hasn’t helped.

 However, some patients – particularly those with full-blown dental phobia – may also be recovering from a traumatic experience relating to dental care, or healthcare, in general. And “trauma” doesn’t have to be something dramatic – even something as seemingly small as being accidentally poked in the gums, resulting in bleeding, can be enough to scare someone out of seeing another dentist for years.

 We have to be sympathetic to the fears and anxieties of such patients – indeed, of all patients – if we truly want to help them have a positive experience every time they come into our office.

Dr. Greg Grillo

Dr. Greg Grillo

19 responses to “How To Help Patients With Dental Anxiety”

  1. Hello! Great article and thank You for Providing Such a Unique and valuable information on The Latest Dentist Products for your readers. I really appreciate it. You can also visit for Teeth Whitening Houston for more dental related information and knowledge.

  2. We have quite a few patients that deal with dental anxiety. Some have been patients for along time but still, when they hear the sound of a dentist drill, you can almost see the perspiration coming to their face. In many regards, you can’t blame them because even people that don’t show signs of anxiety, sometimes have that grip of death on the chair when we’re working on them.

  3. I would like to try Laughing gas. The kind of pain i went through during a tooth extraction some years ago left me with a phobia.

  4. Everybody knows how we shift our dental appointment to the next day because of anxiety. This blog is about how a dentist should make their patients comfortable and relaxed so that they will come to their clinic without hesitation. Some strategies are used by the dentists to reduce dental anxiety of patients. Like, tell your patient to take deep breathe, distract them by television or allowing family/friend in the operating room or else laughing gas is also used by dentists to calm patients. So, dentists, all you need to know is the causes of dental anxiety of your patient and strategies to manage it.

  5. In my experience, there are a lot of fears that stem from unknowns and distrust. Adequate communication will make most people no longer fear or calm down.

  6. Dental anxiety is very common in patients.Thanks for sharing the excellent piece of information. If you are looking of Orthodonists in Spring Tx, Contact Adventure Ortho

  7. Thank you for sharing some valuable content here. I read this article about how a toothbrush (our means of fighting tooth decay) can in fact cause more harm to our teeth. And I wrote this piece about eating food after brushing teeth.
    The facts and myths of the health industry really fascinates me as a layman.

  8. I’m somewhat claustrophobic however I’ve never had issues at the dentist office as the exam rooms use to be somewhat large. It seems that some offices have smaller rooms and televisions! My ex-dentist had assistants who would constantly offer music or TV programs. I tried to enjoy the entertainment but personally found no comfort in this and the distraction made me nervous for the first time in my life as the Doctor kept looking up at the TV!

  9. Indeed a great article. Thank you for sharing Dr. Grillo. As per our dentist in Des Moines, sedation dentistry can be helpful for these kinds of patients. Our West Des Moines dentist practices different sedation procedures like Nitrous Oxide and IV sedation. These procedures help patients to overcome their dental anxiety.

  10. With my personal experience, I relate to this dental anxiety as I faced it in recent times, the best part is anxiety hits on me even when I am watching anyone going to dental treatment

    • Hi Alex,

      There are many studies on Xanax being used for dental anxiety, but the main finding is: “If you take a Xanax before your dental appointment, it could interfere with whatever your dentist needs to do and possibly even any numbing medication he has on hand”.” Overall, it varies from situation to situation.

  11. Dr. Greg, great article! I’d say that somewhere between 30-40% of my patients express anxiety of some kind, and a great dental team is invaluable for distractions, especially with the kiddos. Greatly appreciate your insight!

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