Dental Anxiety: What to Do if Fear is Holding You Back from the Dentist


We’ll admit – it’s not often we get a patient who loves coming to the dentist for their regular check-up. We know most people aren’t counting down the days until their next appointment or wishing they could go more often (it’s ok, we get it). For a myriad of reasons, many people struggle with dental anxiety that impacts their decision on whether to make an appointment.

While it’s normal to feel nervous about an upcoming trip to the dentist, dental anxiety can negatively affect people’s lives, including pushing back crucial treatment and letting their oral health deteriorate. This anxiety can be caused by a bad experience or develop over the years.

If you’re someone who struggles with dental anxiety, read on for more information, including tips for coping with your next visit.

What is dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety is extremely common in Australia and affects around 13-24% of people. There is a spectrum of feelings for dental anxiety, ranging from dental fear, which is characterised by the worry and stress of going to the dentist, to a dental phobia, which is the more severe fear resulting in completely delaying or avoiding the dentist until the pain becomes worse than the anxiety. 

Some common signs of dental anxiety include:

  • Nervousness whilst in the dental waiting room
  • Tension or unease the night before an appointment
  • Cancelling or rescheduling an appointment at the last minute due to nerves
  • Feeling anxious whilst sitting in the dental chair
  • Previous negative experiences at the dentist
  • Fear when seeing dental tools and equipment
  • Feeling physically ill about having a dental injection
  • Panicking about the thought of objects being placed in your mouth
  • Worrying that the dentist will judge your mouth and overall oral hygiene

Although they’re not nice feelings, they are common – we promise you’re not alone!

Why are some people afraid of the dentist?

It can be challenging for those who don’t experience dental anxiety to understand why others are afraid. Each person’s experience with anxiety is different, but here are a few of the most common reasons people feel worried. 

Fear of pain

This may come from a previous negative experience that involved pain, hearing about someone else’s pain, or general nervousness. Luckily, there have been numerous advancements in dental technology, meaning that most procedures are considerably less painful. 

Anxiety over the loss of personal space

This is a common one – and understandably so! No one likes someone else getting all up in their personal space, so when someone is prodding around your mouth, it’s normal to feel anxious and uncomfortable. 

Fear of side effects

During your dental visit, we’ll often use several things to clean, numb, etc., your mouth. Although your dentist will explain any possible side effects, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious about the worst-case scenario occurring. Your dental practitioner can talk you through your fears and help you to feel more at ease.

Fear of injections or needles 

A fear of needles is one many people experience. Some are scared about the feeling of the injection, while others are afraid of the needle itself. Regardless, letting your dentist know about your fears allows them to help put your mind at ease. 

Fear of anaesthetic and/or anaesthetic side effects

This one is common – especially for those who have had a negative experience or never had anaesthetic. Maybe it’s worrying that you won’t be fully asleep for a general anaesthetic or worrying about potential side effects (such as dizziness, feeling faint or nauseous). Whatever it may be, the Mornington Peninsula Dental Clinic team will put your mind at ease throughout the process.

Fear of embarrassment

On another note, some people may not fear the tools and procedures but fear being judged or feeling embarrassed, especially if they haven’t been to the dentist for a long time. It’s normal to feel as though your mouth is the worst we’ve ever seen (trust us, it probably isn’t) or that you have bad breath but our role as your dentist isn’t to judge your oral hygiene. Our job is to help our patients feel as comfortable as possible and educate them about oral hygiene.  

Some other common reasons for dental anxiety include:

  • Previous negative experiences
  • Fearing the unknown
  • Negative stories from family and friends
  • Negative or scary portrayals in the media/movies/newspaper etc.
  • Fear of not having control

Why you need to overcome dental anxiety

While it’s easier to cancel eight consecutive dentist appointments from anxiety than it is to deal with actually going, it’s something that we strongly advise against. Not only does it allow for various dental diseases to develop and worsen, but it also feeds the underlying problem of dental anxiety and creates a vicious cycle.

Most dental diseases are lifestyle-related, meaning they are easily preventable or curable. However, by not seeing a regular dentist, you may develop more complex health issues that need more specific (often expensive) treatment. Finding these problems early can mean the difference between prevention and treatment. 

Tips for coping with dental anxiety

We completely understand if you can relate to some of the things we’ve mentioned. All our team members (including dentists, dental assistants and practice staff) endeavour to make your visit as comfortable as possible and reassure you that your concerns are valid.

However, here are some more tips on how you can prepare yourself for your dental visit.

Find a dentist you feel comfortable with

First (and most importantly), find a dentist who makes you feel comfortable. There’s no harm in visiting a few dental clinics and speaking to staff about your concerns. By talking to team members and familiarising yourself with the clinic, hopefully, you’ll feel a little more comfortable. Asking friends, family, and community groups (in person or online) for recommendations to clinics that they have had positive dealings with is also a great starting point.

Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you’d like – there’s no such thing as a silly question – and be open and honest about your fears. This way, your dentist can help you to feel as comfortable as possible.

Educate yourself

Especially if you fear the unknown, knowledge is power! Educating yourself on the recommended procedures or check-ups can often help put anxious minds at ease. Chat with your dentist or conduct your own research via books, the internet, and other reliable sources. Remember, you should always fact-check things you find on the internet – especially if the information is dated or not from your country.

Don’t forget to communicate!

Communication is key from the moment you make your appointment and throughout your visit. Nothing can be done without your consent, and you can change your mind or ask to stop at any point. Keep an open line of communication with your dentist throughout your procedure, and consider establishing a signal if you need to stop but can’t say so because your mouth is full! Although you may feel vulnerable, being open and honest about your fears is the best way to get reassurance from your dentist.

Practice relaxation techniques 

Whilst you’re in the chair, you might feel yourself tensing up. Practising relaxation techniques can help to relax your body and put your mind at ease. The human body cannot be physically relaxed and mentally anxious simultaneously, so try some physical relaxation methods.

These can include techniques like diaphragmatic breathing (breathing in and out through your nose for three seconds each) and progressive muscle relaxation (tensing specific muscle groups for 5 seconds, then letting them relax for 10-20 seconds). 

Find a distraction that works

Lastly, distraction is another great technique that may come in handy. Speak to your dentist before your appointment, as many can offer certain distractions, such as headphones for listening to music or podcasts. Before you opt for a distraction, consider how this may impact your communication during your appointment.

Dental anxiety is a common thing among both children and adult patients. Whether it’s from a previous bad experience or a result of avoiding appointments, what you’re feeling is normal. If the fear of going to the dentist is stopping you from booking an appointment, get in touch with the team at Mornington Peninsula Dental Clinic to discuss how we can make you feel as comfortable as possible during your visit. 

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