Dental Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes and Combating It

woman fearing dental anxiety

Do you fear sitting on the dentists’ chair? There is actually a term for this, “Dental Anxiety”.

This fear is more common than you may think.

In fact, 9 to 20 percent of Americans skip dental visits because of dental fear.

As a result, you can keep developing oral health problems and may only visit when you are in extreme pain.

Do not worsen your condition by delaying your dental appointment because of fear rather cope with it.

This article discusses the symptoms of dental phobia and as well as the ways to deal with them.

Keep reading below to know how you can get timely treatment without feeling fearful at the dentist.

dental anxiety symptoms


Your dental phobia can result from triggers such as needles and drills that will invade your mouth.

Though, this fear can exacerbate and become Dental Phobia.

This condition isn’t ordinary fear but panic and being terrified of visiting the dentist.

In fact, they will desperately avoid their dental visits until their condition worsens.

The reasons why you get anxiety and phobia can be mental health as well as overall health diseases. More on that later.

The ultimate sign and symptom of dental anxiety are avoiding going to a dentist even when you have oral health problems such as gum disease or gingivitis.

Though, if you plan to visit the dentist, you can get into a state of fear and panic.

You may exhibit signs such as:

  • Not being able to sleep before your dental visit
  • Nervousness results in sweating, palpitations and a fast heartbeat
  • Using humor or aggression to cope up with your anxiety and mask it
  • Getting very uneasy at the thought of objects in your mouth and feeling like throwing up or being unable to breathe properly.
  • Your blood pressure can drop drastically
  • Fainting from fear and low blood pressure
  • Crying uncontrollably because of fear and panic

If you have fear of the dentist then you may be quite familiar with these signs.

But what exactly causes these? Let’s find out below!

woman with tooth pain

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

Fearing Pain 

One of the most obvious reasons for avoiding going to the dentist is because people fear pain.

Though, not many people are aware of the fact that now dental procedures are almost painless.

If there will be any pain, it will be quite bearable.

Hence, you do not need to worry about that anymore.

Though people fear going to the dentist because of someone else’s painful experience or because you had one quite long ago.

So you need to put it aside considering that not every dental experience will be painful.

Speaking of bad experiences…

Traumatic Experiences

Traumatic experiences with dentists and even other healthcare workers can stop you from visiting the dentist or any doctor.

Furthermore, trauma to the head and neck area can make it difficult for your to go to the consider going to dentist.

You need professional help to deal with traumatic experiences.

Counseling and visiting a psychiatrist can help.

Fearing Anesthesia Side Effects 

General anesthesia may make you slightly dizzy, nauseous and faint.

Though, some may strongly fear or detest these symptoms.

Local anesthesia can numb the area and swell your lips.

If you do not like that feeling then you will clearly avoid the dentist.

child fearing oral checkup

Injection Fear 

Fearing needles is a legitimate trigger to cause anxiety and panic.

What can be worse than getting an injection for someone who fears needles? Getting an injection inside your mouth!

Not only do injections themselves cause fear but this constant overthinking that maybe the anesthesia isn’t enough to minimize pain.

This can keep you from visiting the dentist for oral health problems.

Losing Personal Space and Fearing Embarrassment 

If you have not taken good dental care of your oral hygiene, then your dentist may likely comment on that and give you suggestions.

You may fear that the state of your teeth and mouth health can embarrass you.

For instance, discoloration (yellow teeth) and mouth odors (bad breath) can make you self-conscious.

Furthermore, you may not like losing your personal space as the mouth is a personal area.

In order to treat you, your dentist and dental hygienist and the dental team will be closer to your mouth.

However, some may not like this closeness.

Fearing Loss of Control 

You do lose some control on the dental chair.

You have no idea what’s happening inside your mouth.

Moreover, anesthesia may make you dizzy as well.

So it is quite likely you feel uneasy because of losing control.

Go to your trustworthy dentist and take a caretaker or attendant with you, especially if you have trust issues.

This brings us to…

Mental Health Conditions 

Mental health issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression can prevent you from leaving your house and doing anything for yourself.

These conditions can give you a sense of hopelessness and you are unable to do your basic tasks.

Moreover, anxiety’s relation to other conditions like:

  • claustrophobia (fearing enclosed spaces)
  • OCD (an obsessive-compulsive disorder where you want extreme cleanliness)
  • agoraphobia (fearing being in a place where you can’t escape)

will further prevent you from visiting the dentist.

Dental offices are a closed space whereby they put instruments in your mouth and you also have a loss of control over the situation.

That can lead to extreme anxiety at dentist’s office.

Hence, all these factors can prevent you from visiting your dentist and delaying dental treatment for your medical condition.

Now that you know the reasons behind you are delaying your visit, how should you manage to cope with them?

woman combating dental anxiety and getting treatment

How to Combat Dental Anxiety?

Firstly, in order to deal with an anxiety attack or other mental health problems, yous should visit a psychologist.

While you can overcome anxiety on your own as well, it is better to seek professional help first.

Beyond that, you can talk to your dentist about it.

You should be very clear about your anxieties and with your dentist.

As them thoroughly about the procedure to clear any doubts you have.

Sometimes knowing in detail about what is about to happen can eliminate fear.

Therefore ask as many questions as you want to.

Moreover, if you need to take a break then choose a hand signal (by raising your hand etc) to let your dentist know during the procedure.

Also, make sure to tell your dentist when you feel pain through a local anesthetic.

It is completely okay to disrupt a procedure if you are constantly feeling pain.

Do not feel embarrassed because of feeling pain rather holding it in is much more painful.

Your dentist will also use some mechanisms to relax you. More on that later.

You can relax by practicing mindfulness.

Stay aware of your surroundings by breathing and relaxing your muscles.

Inhale and exhale up to five times before beginning the procedure.

Moreover, release tension in your body muscles, starting from the head to the toes.

You can also use hypnosis to relax.

Furthermore, you can try distraction by wearing headphones if you want to cut the sound from your surroundings.

The drilling sounds are especially bothersome and panic-inducing.

Hence cut all sounds in the background, though, you can also distract yourself by squeezing a stress ball.

Or keep your hands busy by spinning a fidget spinner.

When you relax your muscles, occupy your hands and distract yourself, it’s time to imagine your happy place and let all stress go.

dentist helping child to overcome fear

How Can Your Dentist Help You?

If you have severe dental phobia, then your dentist may recommend taking a few extra measures than these.

While informing your dentist, mediating, and distracting yourself can still help, these measures still require a lot of effort and willingness from you.

If the dentist sees that these are not enough, they can give you the following:

  • Laughing  Gas

Laughing gas is also known as relative analgesia or happy gas and is basically nitrous oxide.

Your dentist can fit a mask with oxygen and nitrous oxide before the procedure so that you can relax.

This relaxing sensation can stay during the procedure while you will be awake.

However, you may not coherently remember everything after the procedure because of the sedation from the gas.

  • Conscious Sedation and General Anesthesia

Conscious sedation keeps you awake enough during the procedure that you can respond.

However, you may fall into a light sleep.

The anesthetic is placed into an intravenous line that gets directly into your veins in the hand or arm.

You can feel slightly drowsy and nauseous as the procedure ends.

Though, this is deep enough to relax your anxiousness.

In general anesthesia, you will be fully asleep.

However, it is not fit for all dental treatments and will you escape from your anxieties rather than cope with them.

Though if you suffer from dental phobia and cannot manage other options, then ask your dentist about getting general anesthesia.

relaxed woman after taking medicines to treat dental anxiety

  • Anxiety relieving medicines

Your dentist may recommend you take oral anxiety medicines an hour before you begin your procedure.

These act quickly for a short time so they can spare you fear and anxiousness during your procedure.


Try coping with dental anxiety using these mechanisms and discussing with your dentist.

After all, skipping dental visits causes greater oral health problems.



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