Ann MacDonald

Dental fear? Our readers suggest coping techniques.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the topic of dental phobia. Fear of the dentist is incredibly common, with surveys estimating that it affects 13% to 24% of people around the world. For many people, dental anxiety is disturbing but not disabling. But some are so terrorized at the thought of going to the dentist that they avoid the experience altogether–until the reality of an aching tooth or infection necessitates a visit.

In my first post, I asked readers to send in suggestions about how they cope with their own fears. As promised, I’m now posting some helpful replies we received. If you have other suggestions, submit a comment below this post. I appreciate your help (and so will the readers of this blog).

As an aside, I stumbled onto a wonderful online resource for people who are afraid of the dentist (and I am one of them!): Dental Fear Central. This nonprofit site offers lots of helpful advice, tips, and online forums where you can ask questions of other people dealing with their own dental fear.

Meanwhile, here are some suggestions from our readers:

“I listen with a headset to laugh-aloud funny books or podcasts when I am in the waiting room and in the dental chair. I try not to get to the appointment too early, as sitting in the waiting room can increase my anxiety. And while waiting, I practice relaxation breathing.” — Suzanne

“I bring my iPod and play nice soothing music, or a book on MP3.” — Heather

“Have the dentist explain everything before doing it. Make the patient become the assistant, such as asking him or her to ‘hand me this or that,’ etc. Make sure there is a nice scent in the treatment room, and listen to catchy, familiar, calming music–something with a subliminal connection — a song everyone knows the words to. It would be nice if the dentist put something fascinating to look at on the ceiling.” — Nancy

“My dentist has televisions situated on the ceiling of his office so that when he leans his patients back in the chair, they are able to watch television. This serves as a decent distraction from the fact that you are in the dentist office and has manged to alleviate tensions associated with dental visits for my whole family.” — Blaine

Comments:

  1. Ross

    Hi. I have a great dentist who has a good range of music that he puts on when you are in the chair. It allows you to concentrate on the sound of the music instead of a drill. He provides music he likes and you get to choose so we both enjoy it.

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  3. Henry

    I always feared the dentist and never went for years then I had to go. I ended up having to have a mouth full of fillings and a couple teeth out but the dentist I have now is great and I never worry any more

  4. Nathan Woodbury

    Well as we all know biggest fear of an individual is going for dental check up because of it’s rumors that causes one’s fear. Dentist are scary to look at but very gentle most especially when caring with their clients, they have this unique way on how to lay down alternatives to relieve one’s fear.

  5. Anonymous

    My biggest problem is with the sound of the drill. I can take the needles and the picking and scraping. But the sound of the drill sends me over the moon. I will try the tip about taking my ipod the next time I go I am just not sure it would be loud enough to drown out the sound. I had convinced myself that my next dentist visit would have to be with sedation. We will see…Thanks for the tip.

  6. Heather Smith

    Dental fear is terrible. You can’t just take it away from us but we have to conquer it. I know that all people have fear in dental treatment but in the other hand, it help’s us. We just don’t see it because we are in the state of fear. Thanks for posting this.

  7. arnold

    Hi, great idea to go out to readers and ask for what’s worked for them.There are successful techniques that help people to remove dental anxiety permanently which is such a relief for those concerned including the Dentist!

  8. arnold

    This is nice post to highlights on dental Phobia or anxiety. Actually my younger sister had faced bad experiences with dentists in her young age. That is why I always fear to take dental treatment from any dentist

  9. Joe Sterling

    Anyone who has fear of a dentist should always get to know their dentist first. I suggest that you go in and talk with him\her before there is a issue that require immediate attention.

    I also don’t recommend people with dental phobia to fall for things like “home toothache cures”. While their are toothache remedies that can help relieve the pain they can’t actually solve the problem, only a dentist can. You can check out the link below to find out some scientifically based toothache remedies to remove pain; no cost, no sign-up, just free educational information.

  10. RobDlion

    Great article. I too have dental fear and in my earlier years suffered through a few cavities that could have been prevented from advancing as far as they did. The best way I have found to relax is to get there late, have the doctor explain everything in great detail, make him laugh and in turn it makes me laugh and finally I tell the dentist that I have fear and to please take it easy. Just being honest lets them know where I am on the whole thing and sets me at ease too. Try it, it sets the tone for everyone working on you and makes you feel better knowing that they are watching what they do and treating you with kid gloves.

  11. Claudie Chaves

    My dental provider utilizes a renovated house for his office – this gets rid of the sterile medical feel of most dental offices. It’s basically a huge den with music/television, sofa, recliner and oh by the way a couple of dental chairs.

  12. Paul

    I have struggled with going to the dentist my entire adult life. I had a traumatic experience as a young lad (skateboard accident) that required a rush to the dentist. It wasn’t until recently that I have mostly overcome the fear (not that I like going). I find that the laughing gas does the trick for me. I spent 8 hours in the chair a few years ago and it went by without a problem. I also ask for a mouth prop so I can keep my mouth open long enough for them.

  13. Kathy Hamil

    We recently had new 18″ flat screen tv attached above all the chairs in the dentist attached to our Spa.[URL removed by moderator] I tried one out for the first time he other day and I even forgot my mouth was open at some points. As i also have a slight fear of the dentist. But the tv’s really made a difference. Sad I know, but true

  14. Julz

    When I was a kid,My habbit was drinking milk a lot.It was the only thing i liked it,My mother told me that :((You shouldn t drink it alot any more)),Once my aunt came to our house and every body was sleeping after midnight i went to her room and told her:Please don t tell my mom,(( Can you fill up my bottle of milk.So when i was growing up non of my teeth coudn t fall down any more thats why i had to pull all of my teeth out when i was at school.

  15. Fern Almond

    I love the dentist now which is a change from years ago when I dreaded going. Not sure why this is but probably due to less painful processes and more caring dentists.
    I also use calming processes like cd’s audio,
    [URL removed by moderator]

  16. Fern Almond

    Many moons ago I used to be so scared of the dentist I would need a sedative before I could have any treatment. Well as time has passed I don’t even think about it at all, I just go. This is probably down to more caring dentists, less painful procedures and the fact they don’t automatically pull a problem tooth out. I wish I had not been so scared all those years ago, I would still have more of my own teeth and less crowns and bridges.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  17. Jeff

    Yeah, going to the dentist is a serious exercise in relaxation breathing for me…no matter the tooth particles hitting the back of my throat. Oh man, I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight!

  18. Joshua Sklar

    Going to the dentist is not what it used to be. Now with modern technology, you have less painful procedures. My advice is to never sit on an aching tooth, as it can cause further health problems.

    thanks for the article.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  19. Love Dentist

    I used to fear dentist too when I was a kid

    but when i grow up, I think Dental is necessity so when I go to see a dentist i’ll keep on listening music with my ipod to calm down my heart. It works tho..

    Thank you for sharing a great article.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  20. Bebkhshid1234

    (([Really thanks for your guidance as always sir joul... .]))

  21. Dental Tourism India

    Most of us have dental phobia. But it is up to the dental spa or clinic to appease the customers.

    • peter henry

      Living in Ireland I found the price of getting a lot of dental work very expensive. I therefore traveled to Poland and got all my teeth done for a fraction of the price I was quoted at home. While sitting in the waiting room I watch funny cartoons on my kindle fire, which takes my mind off the treatment I will be having.

  22. Master Personal Trainer

    Well I guess like most people, if you’ve had any cavities in childhood like me, you’ve definitely got a fear of the dentist. My Mom always kept boiled sweets around the house when we were growing up and the amount of silver fillings in my mouth is very uncool. Young parents should stay on top of their young children and the sodas, fizzy drinks, candy sweets, sweet fruits and lack of brushing. Educate them early and make them realize that their teeth will have to last them a lifetime. Tough I know to put an experienced hat on a young head, but worth a go.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  23. Bebkhshid1234

    Please do me a favour,Can you introduce me a good book for anatomy of dentistry easier than snell?.

  24. dental advisor

    I have read your article. This is nice post to highlights on dental Phobia or anxiety. Actually my younger sister had faced bad experiences with dentists in her young age. That is why I always fear to take dental treatment from any dentist. I knew this is not happened only with me, there are so many people visit to dentist carefully because they are afraid to dentists and their treatment style and this is the big reason behind the dental anxiety or fear or phobia.

  25. Maria Rodriguez

    When i go to the dentist, i imagine how good my teeth will look afterwards. There is nothing like a good smile

  26. lanh

    What I usually do to cope with my dental fears is to have a set of headphones on playing. It helps my zone out to what is going on.

  27. orthodontic specialist

    We pride ourselves on making the patient as comfortable and informed as possible prior, during and after treatment.
    This includes many videos on our website to build a relationship up before visiting the office and a free consultation where they are made to feel welcome and ask as many questions as possible.

  28. Faiz Ahamed

    Good dental care is not just about pretty teeth that don’t hurt. Good dental health could potentially improve your overall health and even prolong your life.

    I once heard of a study that showed people who keep all their teeth live an average of ten years longer than those who don’t….ten years! That’s a long time..

    • Anonymous

      That is actually quite a frightening statistic. Do you happen to remember where you read about this study? I would really like to inform our readers about it. It just drives the point straight home, doesn’t it?!

      Ten years is a very high price to pay for neglecting your dental health.

      And there are also some people who just can’t brush their teeth right – not by any fault of their own – they were either not taught properly or just keep buying the wrong kind of toothbrush.

      One thing we recommend to our readers is an innovative toothbrush which really gets at all corners and can prevent some problems. The 30 second smile toothbrush (formerly Hydrabrush).

  29. Kaysa Valter

    Cosmetic dentistry can also be utilised as an alternative to metal braces, which may be considered uncomfortable or embarrassing.

  30. Mark

    http://www.drkgarrett.com/raleigh-dentist-office.htm

    This office displays an online tour which really helps the patients get a feel for the place before they go in for their checkups. I thought this was a great idea!

  31. Lajolla Dentist

    The best way to conquer the pain is to play a relaxing music or the type of music that you normally want to hear.. hip hop, jazz, classical, pop…. that way, your attention will be diverted into something.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  32. james odom

    the truth is the truth is the truth, the best way to stay out from under the drill or worse is to take the best care of your teeth and gums as is possible. if you do your best and still have trouble, at least you know you did your best, but if you cut corners with dental care and end up under the drill, it’s no one’s fault bu your own. a wise man once said that the worst lie in the world is one told to one’s self.

  33. George

    I never feared a dentist until I had to do an operation on the nerves surrounding my dental area. Stress and fear of needles took over it took the doctor 5 injections to desensitize the affected area. Will never forget that experience.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  34. Chad Waterbury Fan

    I think about my fear of not addresing the issue right away, it fears me more. But hey thanks for the tip on the ipod and mp3, I’d love to try that.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  35. Andrew

    I like the television in the ceiling idea… but I also hate going to the dentist… its just one of those things in life we have to do, so here are a few of my thoughts on how to cope… first of all you should be going to a dentist that you feel comfortable with and you trust to a certain extent (this really helps). Secondly you should bring a friend or family member for moral support (great help as well). Sedation is also an option (laughing gas?!?). I also like to take some kind of object to hold and squeeze in my hand during the checkup or whatever it is. On the other hand though, it does feel good walking out afterwards with nice clean teeth :)

    [URL removed by moderator]

  36. Matt

    Surprisingly, I used to have a fear of the dentist but after having 9 teeth pulled I guess you tend to get over that fear fairly quickly. Also I did not have braces or a retainer so I went the caveman route I guess.

    However from the first time I got my teeth pulled I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what novcaine was which made it hurt to know end. The wisdom teeth though they put me under which was the best decision ever. Thank you dentists that do that so I don’t have to feel so much pain.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  37. Richard

    I have spent many many hours in the dentist chair over the years, having genetically bad teeth. My top tip would without doubt be to keep your appointments to the minimum time, i.e do not have multiple work done at one visit, it does not help, its way better to have 3 20 minute appintments than 1 60 minute one. sometimes with root canals etc it cannot always be achieved but whwere posiible spraed the visits out to short and often, it really does lessen the pain and anxiety.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  38. Jeff Adams

    It is interesting that Teeth Whitening is very much in high demand. But, I have found in my research that many people avoid going to the dentist and instead try the at-home remedies. Besides cost, they mainly seek alternatives out of fear.

    This article gave me some more fear-conquering ideas to consider.

    Thanks!!

    http://www.cherryhilldentistv.com

  39. south dakota dentist

    I got a lot of suggestion for my own site thanks for that, it’s really exhilarating me, and most likely also for another people who also visit your site. Thanks for taking time to discuss on this topic.

  40. Marc Azada

    I agree! Eating fruits and vegetables is something that we all must do to have a healthy life. Anyway, just to let you know, i always was afraid of dentists ever since i was a kid. I always had to ask the dentist to let me go to sleep before actually doing anything with my teeth.

  41. awer bahi

    Certainly, it is best for us to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday.
    Dates are a great source of vitamins, minerals and wholesome substances for our body in order to function well.

  42. Alexa Harper

    There’s just something about going to a dentist or orthodontist, no matter how it helps us, it just doesn’t seem natural, with the metal, and the drills, all going into your mouth. Plus if you ever had a painful experience, this only heightens the fear.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  43. Chintan Gandhi

    can be scary, but I also feel that anything that can be done to calm the patient is a plus in the right direction. Keeping patients relaxed is the best way to make sure that everything goes well. Great

  44. Barry

    The one thing I did when i had to have a broken filling replaced was I worked out for about 45 min 1.5 hours before my appointment. I knew i was going to have freezing done and the cooling down process from my workout really relaxed me by the time the dental work began.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  45. Elias

    i didn’t know there is such a thing as a dental phobia. I think that is what my first born son has.. he is trembling just the sound of the word dentist.

    I;ll be following your works on this and hopefully it can help my little boy too. Thanks,

    [URL removed by moderator]

  46. White Media

    It’s really easy to have dental fear. I haven’t met anyone who finds pleasure in going to the dentist, especially when undergoing teeth extractions. However, the advancements today have made dental procedures much more tolerable. Thanks
    [URL removed by moderator]

  47. Adam S

    I find relative comedy to be the most helpful to me. My dentist knows that I have an issue with dental fears, so he always finds a way to make me laugh about things (and sometimes my somewhat irrational fear). When it comes down to it, I am good enough to at least cope with my fear when it comes time for the deed to be done. I have also found that watching funny relative videos on youtube such as Dane After Dentist (hilarious) calm me down.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  48. Duddy

    Take 20 minutes once a day for 3 months to master the relaxation response through progressive muscle relaxation diagrammatic breathing (“mindfulness practice”). This will also increase your health status and the general quality of your life, reducing dentist visits.

    You’ll know that you’ve mastered the relaxation response, when you can self invoke relaxation in just 10 seconds with a quick “self-scan” during normal stressful events in your life (i.e. during hot-button marital conflict; or during high stress parenting challenges).

    For a week before each dental appointment, pair visualization of being in the dental chair with your instant relaxation-response training.

    On the day of the actual dental appointment, monitor your mind and body for your stress-response signals and quickly self-invoke the relaxation response to replace them.

    You can also self-invoke the relaxation response to save your marriage, to parent under stress and to be a more effective team member or leader.

    Hope this helps,
    - Duddy

  49. Todd Reum

    I can see why people have a fear..ive been getting cleaned before and they went way to hard or the freezing was not fully kicked in while undergoing a cavity filling
    [URL removed by moderator]

  50. J Arnold

    After a reaction to stematil (anti sickness drug) I had a respiriatory arrest, This was all in hospital, but afterwards when I went to the dentist I freaked out when my tongue went numb after an injection, it felt similar to the start of my drug reaction. It has taken ages to get over this fear, my dentist has been a great help – he explains everything and just keeps talking to me, this really makes a surprising difference, If you are nervous don’t be afraid to tell your dentist what your frears are, talking esp through procedures is disctracting and calming.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  51. CG Freedman

    Dentistry today should be a relaxing experience for patients. For patients with anxiety there are pharmaceuticals that can be taken before the appointment or afterward that can calm patients. Most office environments today are not the cold/ sterile offices that there were in the past. A dental office should be warm and welcoming. Listening to the TVs in the office or your headphones through your phone or Ipod is a huge help.
    [URL removed by moderator]

    • waterpik reviews guy

      I totally agree with you it should be a pleasant experience. I think it starts with the dentist having a reputation for catering to people who are afraid of the dentist.

  52. Paul Bell

    Neither my dentist nor any of his peers wear the traditional dentist’s tunic, which creates an informal atmosphere. While he also has televisions playing, I find that focusing on my toes helps to distract me.

  53. Katherine Mccain

    Its 100% true that and as a specialist i understand the worry and anxiety about it.

  54. Estetica

    has anyone thought about sedation? Most dental clinics offer safe sedation for patients with dental phobia. In fact, some clinics offer it for free on top of your surgery or treatment. plus for more complexed dental treatments that may require a couple of visits, sedation allows the patient to be comfortably numb, so to speak, and allows the dentist to finish the work in 1 visit.

    Dr Salimi
    Cosmetic Dentist at Estetica UK

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

  55. rick

    Many people have minor phobias over things like going to teh dentist. But others have more severe cases of anxiety that can cripple their lives. I usually recommend a natural approach to healing, rather than prescription drugs or therapy, unless those last two options are absolutely necessary.

    [URL reference removed by a moderator.]

  56. Sarah

    As a dental hygienist, I understand the fear and anxiety people have when they visit the dentist. We let our patients listen to their iPod or mp3 player while we clean their teeth. This way, they don’t have to hear the sounds of the drill and the music relaxes them.

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

  57. Samuel

    Isnt it interesting how our minds control our emotions! I love how if you can distract the mind, like listing to music, much of the fear can be controlled. Just the hearing of the word “dentist” seems to put many peoples minds in a frenzy. I think if people could learn how to manage their minds a bit better we would see a lot of fear about dentists go away.
    Sam

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

  58. Jin

    Hi,

    Nice article. I can somewhat recommend these techniques to my patient so that they will not be afraid in getting dental check up. In the first place, there is nothing to be afraid with the dentist.

    Jin

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

  59. Event Planning

    Hi…

    Sure,,,I realize that anything that can be done to calm the patient is a plus n this blog is a great help on how to cope with dental phob

  60. Keith Chapman

    Fear of the dentist is one of the biggest issues concerning dental health. So it’s great to see someone providing useful information to help individuals overcome the fear of going to the dentist.

    [Edited by a moderator.]

  61. Lance Clark

    Being a medical professional myself (physical therapist) and having a strong fear of dental work brought me to this article. The Dental Fear Central site is a good resource for others who are in the same boat as myself. Thanks.

    Lance Clark

    [Edited by a moderator.]

  62. Thomas Thomsen

    If you’ve had bad experiences in the past where a dentist wouldn’t stop even though you were in obvious distress, or a dentist holding or pinning you down, it’s very likely that you’ll be terrified of losing control in a dental situation. If this has been your experience, it’s important that your next dentist is one whom you can trust completely.

    Thomas Thomsen

    [Edited by a moderator.]

  63. David

    I enjoy having my teeth being cleaned. However my wife cannot sleep the night before her appointment with a dentist. Her fear of dentists is incredible.

    So please be aware that people are different.

    Sydney dentist

  64. Heather

    Hi, great idea to go out to readers and ask for what’s worked for them.There are successful techniques that help people to remove dental anxiety permanently which is such a relief for those concerned including the Dentist!

    [Edited by a moderator.]

  65. Marijus

    As a dentist I have noticed that the trust is number one factor for removing fear of the dentist. I am seeing lots of children of young age – from 3 to 16 years old. And I all ways tell parents – bring your child before there is a problem and then we could start building this trust relationship. This works and I have lots of positive feedback.

    (Edited by a moderator.)

  66. christina

    Thanks for the website info – My whole family has needed this kind of reading.

  67. Rich

    I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never really had a fear of going to the dentist. Novocaine is certainly a wonderful invention. However, I’ve never enjoyed the sound of a high speed drill. My technique for getting through brief moments of discomfort while in the dentist’s chair is to stare straight up at the ceiling at the lights. I’ll also briefly close my eyes in order to really block things out.

    (Edited by a moderator)

  68. dentist akron

    This blog is a great help on how to cope with dental phobia. some tips are really helpful. I agree with Infinity Aesthetics techniques about television screens. This thing can alternate & ease the fear of patients. Good post!

  69. Logan

    Personally i had to start going to a sedation dentist…It definitely helps me.

  70. David W Johnson

    When I’ve made an appointment to visit the dentist, I also schedule a pleasurable event right afterward. I focus on the event after the dentist and not the dentist visit itself. Doesn’t work all the time but it’s helpful.

  71. John Weaver

    I agree with Mike’s comment on focusing on external sounds. I have always been very anxious at the dentist, but recently they have added TVs in each chair area for patients to watch. I find that focusing on the movie that is playing helps ease the nerves of being there.

    John

  72. D Jou Torras

    I find that hypnotherapy helps me a lot. I have got an appointment soon to have a gum graft done, and I am absolutely terrified just thinking about it. My periodontist offers hypnotherapy as an option and and this really helps (well, I hope it helps this time as well!)

  73. Mike Bundrant

    To cope with my dental fear I bring all of my attention external – attending in particular to the external sounds in the office and to my kinesthetic awareness; the weight of my body on the chair; the texture of the armrest, etc…The idea is to focus outward. This helps me relax, as the fear is internally based. I learned a lot about this through the work of Stanley Block, MD, who wrote the book, Come To Your Senses. (http://www.MindBodyBridging.com)

  74. Gilat Tunit

    Dentistry can be scary, but I also feel that anything that can be done to calm the patient is a plus in the right direction. Keeping patients relaxed is the best way to make sure that everything goes well. Great post!

  75. Infinity Aesthetics

    Being a cosmetic dentist this is something that I am well aware of. It is often a personal choice but finding an experienced female dentist would be a step in the right direction. I have television screens above my chair that I use for lenghty procedures and for some nervous patients. I find though that the best approach is to be calm and over communicative as to what I am doing. Often keeping talking is enough to distract and relax a patient.

    http://www.infinityaesthetics.co.uk/tooth whitening.htm