Published: 01/24/2024

If you find yourself hesitant or anxious about going to the dentist, you’re not alone. Dental anxiety is very common, affecting 5 to 10% of children and 10 to 20% of adults. For many, even a routine dental appointment is more than a check-up. It’s a journey through deep-seated (though often hidden) fears and anxiety.

Dental anxiety refers to any fear, anxiety, or stress in a dental setting. It can be associated with certain triggers, such as the chair or office smells, seeing scrapers or other dental tools, or the sound of the drill.

Symptoms of dental anxiety can include everything from increased heart rate to sweating, feeling nauseous, shaking or trembling, or dry mouth. Dental anxiety may also include feelings of distress or panic and the desire to flee. Feeling worried, uneasy, or even fearful about an upcoming appointment (even if you haven’t set the appointment yet) is also common.

Children may cry, throw tantrums, or show other signs of distress. They may also refuse to open their mouths or cooperate with the dentist or hygienist during the visit. Or they may cling tightly to parents or caregivers.

Having some level of apprehension about your dental visits is common and completely normal. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to more severe cases of dental anxiety. In fact, your dentist or dental office can often provide solutions to help you relax during your visit.

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

There are numerous reasons some people develop dental anxiety, such as:

  • Past negative experiences
  • Pain or the fear of pain due to past experiences or stories from others
  • Loss of control as you’re unable to see what is happening
  • Self-consciousness about the state of your teeth, lack of regular dental care, the odor of the mouth, or perhaps being in close proximity with someone you don’t know well
  • General anxiety or past trauma.

Again, dental anxiety is quite common. Dental procedures can be quite invasive, and people can feel vulnerable in the dental chair.

There’s also a lot of exaggeration in TV shows and movies for dramatic or comedic effect and entertainment. These portrayals can be far more intense (and painful) than the actual procedure. For example, some actors, comedians, and reporters have exaggerated depictions of the dread of dentistry, which can instill fear.

There are also negative stereotypes of dentists, showing them as intimidating or even evil. While meant to get a laugh, jokes and humorous anecdotes can reinforce fear and anxiety, especially in those who have never had a dental procedure or who have had negative experiences in the past.

Unfortunately, there’s little positive representation to show a more balanced or realistic view of the benefits of regular dental care or how most people feel fairly comfortable with the care they receive.

Seeking Balance

Sadly, many people with dental anxiety tend to avoid or delay dental care, which can lead to more significant dental problems. Fortunately, there are ways to lessen dental anxiety and increase your comfort.

The first is to understand the dental procedure. Education can demystify your dental visits, which naturally reduces fear. You can also discuss your concerns with a supportive family member, friend, or counselor.

Being more critical of the media you consume can also help mitigate the negative stereotypes of dentists and dental procedures. Rather than taking in all the jokes or exaggerations, it’s valuable to seek out accurate information, which is more balanced and less fear-inducing.

You can also speak with people who have had positive experiences and enjoy the benefits of improved oral health. People with strong, healthy teeth tend to smile more often and present more confidence and well-being, for example.

Addressing Dental Anxiety

Using relaxation techniques both before you arrive and during the visit can also help. Some of the most effective can be deep breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness, and visualization of a positive experience.

It can also help to distract yourself. You can listen to music, watch TV, listen to an audiobook or podcast, or focus on a calming image during the cleaning or treatment.

Slowly exposing yourself to the dental environment is another way to help ease anxiety over time. Visit the office and meet with the dentist and hygienist so you are more familiar with the team who will be caring for you and your smile. Then, have a simple cleaning. Gradual exposure to the workings of the dental office can help ease anxiety over time.

It’s also important to have open communication with your dental team. This can help them tailor the approach to your needs and concerns. That can include pain management, such as topical anesthetics or painkillers, to alleviate fear of pain. Or, for those who experience severe dental anxiety, sedation dentistry with nitrous oxide, oral sedatives, or IV sedation may help you relax during procedures.

Today’s dentists often use modern techniques and equipment that make procedures more comfortable and less intimidating. They can also explain the process in detail so you feel more in control of what’s happening. And, of course, a good dental team provides a comfortable, compassionate environment without judgment for any lack of access to dental care or avoidance of care due to anxiety.  

Discussing any dental anxiety, fears, or concerns with your dentist allows them to provide reassurance and help demystify the procedure to correct many common misconceptions.


Unfortunately, dental anxiety is both real and common. Luckily, it’s not something anyone has to live with forever.

Knowing what causes your anxiety is half the battle—whether it’s a fear of pain, past experiences, or unfortunate stereotypes. Understanding the cause can help you face it head-on.

Also, remember that you’re not alone. Your dentist and their team can be your ally. Discussing your concerns with them can help decrease your anxiety. They also have tools and techniques to ease your discomfort and make your visits more comfortable.

You can also try out some simple relaxation tricks yourself. Take some deep, calming breaths. Bring your favorite music or entertainment along. Just going to the dentist for regular cleanings can help reduce your anxiety as you develop a more positive relationship.

The bottom line is that with the right approach, you can manage your dental anxiety so dental visits become less daunting. It doesn’t have to hold you back from having a beautiful, healthy smile!

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