Tips on Dental Anxiety

I have been practicing dental hygiene for over seven years now. And I cannot tell you how many times I have heard patients tell me how much they hate the dentist. However, let’s face it: going to the dentist can be unpleasant at times. Also, it doesn’t help that every single time a dental professional is depicted in a movie or television show, they are perceived as evil (sometimes in an over the top hilarious kind of way, but still!)

Dental anxiety is a very real thing and it does not just affect children. I have met people of all ages from all walks of life, male and female, who admit that they have some form of dental anxiety. It breaks my heart to know that there are that many people out there who avoid going to the dentist because of their anxiety, which then turns into a vicious cycle. This avoidance tends to lead to more oral health problems, which results in painful dental visits and even more avoidance.

Managing dental anxiety is vital because when a patient feels comfortable enough coming in for their cleanings, they are breaking that vicious avoidance cycle.

Here Are the 7 Tips to Combat Dental Anxiety

1. Talk to the Hygienist

I can usually tell if the patient is nervous or uncomfortable at the start of a visit whenever I ask “how are you today?” If the patient tells me directly that they are anxious, I always ask what it is about going to the dentist that makes them feel that way. if I know what is bothering them, no matter what it is, I can work with them to make the visit as comfortable as possible.

2. Remember You Are in Control

The fear of losing control is extremely common in anxious patients. I always emphasize that I am not in control of this appointment, they are. I always make sure I let the patient know everything I am planning to do during the appointment. I also say that if at any point they want me to stop, they have the power to ask me to do so.

3. Establish and Use Hand Signals

This is a continuation of tip #2. If at any point the patient wants me to stop, I simply say they can hold up their hand and I will stop whatever I am doing. If your hygienist doesn’t mention this, I recommend bringing it up with them. They never want to hurt you and also will find these gestures helpful.

4. Ask about Pain Management

Since fear of pain is all too common, it usually makes the patient feel better if I mention pain management suggestions. I offer up options and they can decide whether or not it is the right decision for them. Again, don’t worry about asking your hygienist, they are super happy to explain.

5. Let Yourself Get Distracted

It’s amazing what a little distracting can do. At the last dental office I worked at, we put nature scenes on the television and it created a soothing environment. Music helps too and it’s even better if the patient gets to choose what kind of music to listen to. At the start of every Virtudent visit, we ask patients whether or not they would like music or a podcast to help keep them comfortable.

6. Consider the Time of Day When Scheduling

I have found that if an already anxious patient comes in during a high-stress time (ie: late morning rush, during rush hour), it doesn’t help with their anxiety in the least bit. I recommend patients who are worried about their appointment come in first thing in the morning, which is usually a quieter time of the day.

7. Be Vocal

Something else I discovered over the years is that not every anxious patient is exactly the same. What works for one person might be completely different for another person. It makes it incredibly helpful for me when patients are vocal about what they find works best for them so I can give the best appointment possible.

One of my favorite things about being a dental hygienist is helping patients overcome their dental anxiety and I smile to myself when I think of those instances. It means a lot to me when a patient begins to have positive associations with the dentist instead of negative ones.

Looking for advice on dental anxiety from your friendly dental hygienist? Book an appointment with Virtudent to chat during your next dental cleaning.


Gina Glassberg

Author Gina Glassberg

Gina discovered her love of dentistry at a young age, as her entire immediate family works in the dental field. Her father and brother are dentists, and her mother is a dental assistant! Gina went to New York University for hygiene school and she also now works there as an adjunct clinical professor in the dental hygiene program. When she isn't at Virtudent, Gina enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending time with her husband and cat!

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