Dental Anxiety: You Are Not Alone!

Many people become anxious at the dental office. You might be one of them. There are many reasons that people are anxious about dental work and it is important to find out what is at the root of your anxiety so that we can all work together to address your anxiety and make you as comfortable as possible.


Children’s fear:

  • Can be because it is a new experience
  • Can be due to a previous dental experience
  • Can be due to transference of a parents’ fear—Fathers play a key role in transmitting dental fear to their children. Fathers who can display calm or positive emotions and verbalize positive thoughts at the dentist will be a reassuring model for their children. Parents, you need to watch your own anxiety—your kids pick up on it so watch what you say (Ex. “it won’t hurt too much”) don’t talk about shots or the idea of pain. Don’t let siblings tell the child patient how hard or how painful the dentist will be.


Whether you’re an adult or child, it is best to schedule your appointment for the time of day when you are least stressed. For children, this is often first thing in the morning when they are well rested.

Before you arrive for your appointment:

  1. Control your imagination. Expect the best outcome
  2. Talk to the dentist/office. Let them know how you’re feeling.
  3. Have a snack high in protein to stabilize blood sugar. This helps calm your nerves. (Protein has a longer calming effect than sweets.)
  4. Avoid Caffeine on the day of your appointment.

At the dental office:

  1. Practice 7/11 breathing (inhale for 7 counts, exhale for 11 counts) to slow anxiety
  2. Distract yourself with a favorite soothing music.
  3. Know the hand signals or pre-arrange them with office to let them know when you need a break.


If the noise of the drill bothers you, ask about using a dental laser, which has a different sound than the standard drill, or about using a product like Caridex that breaks down the cavity so your dentist can manually scrape it out without the drill.


If the idea of a shot bothers you, ask about using a dental laser that produces its own numbing effect over time or if you’re having dental treatment on an upper tooth, you might be able to use Novenase, which is inhaled rather than injected.


If you tend to gag, remember that this is a reflex that stems from feeling of choking that causes your throat to spasm which makes swallowing and breathing difficult.

Sometimes applying numbing gel to your mouth will confuse oral nerves and reduce your gag reflex. Sometime placing salt on your tongue will distract your oral nerves and reduce gagging. If the dental mirror against your tongue is a trigger, sometimes the dental mirror can be placed in a different location. For impressions, ask if a faster setting material can be used so that the impression is in your mouth for a shorter period of time.


If the cause of your dental office anxiety is not mentioned here, talk with your dentist about it and together brainstorm options.


Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare providers.


Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.

1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053