How to Ease Dental Anxiety

woman at dental clinic
November 20, 2023

It’s normal to feel some anxiety about going to the dentist. For some people, this anxiety can be so intense that it prevents them from seeking dental care altogether. However, neglected oral health issues will only get worse over time, leading to more invasive and expensive treatments down the road.

The good news is there are many ways we can work together to help you feel more comfortable and relaxed at your dental visits. At Rocky Mountain Smiles in Loveland, CO, we understand dental anxiety and make your comfort our top priority. Here are some tips to ease anxiety before and during your appointments with us:

Before Your Appointment

Tell Us You Feel Anxious

Letting us know ahead of time that you tend to feel anxious or nervous about dental visits gives us a chance to note it in your patient chart. That way, our entire staff will be informed and we can take steps to accommodate your needs. We may be able to prescribe a medication, allow more time between procedures, or make other adjustments to the appointment flow. The more we know about your anxiety triggers, the better we can customize your visit.

Come Prepared with Distractions

Distracting your mind can help ease feelings of anxiety. Bring items like headphones and music, audiobooks, or podcasts that you find absorbing. Fidget toys like stress balls, tangles, or modeling clay can also help distract nervous hands during procedures. Come prepared with a few different options you find relaxing so you can tune out the sensory experiences that provoke anxiety.

Take Deep Breaths

Practicing deep breathing exercises activates your relaxation response, reducing feelings of anxiety and panic. Try breathing techniques like square breathing – inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, repeat. The more you practice conscious deep breathing, the more naturally it will come during periods of stress. Watching short meditation or breathing exercise videos can also help you learn techniques.

Limit Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can heighten feelings of anxiety. Avoid consuming sources of caffeine like coffee, tea, soda and chocolate before your dental appointment. Staying away from caffeine for 4-6 hours beforehand can help prevent an amplified anxiety response. Drink water, herbal tea or decaf beverages instead.

Arrive Early

Building in some extra time before your scheduled appointment helps ease anxiety. Arriving 15-20 minutes early gives you time to check in, complete any paperwork and get settled before we call you back. For some patients, waiting in the reception room causes more nerves. If that applies to you, let us know when you arrive and we’ll get you into a room sooner.

Bring Someone

If allowed, having a trusted family member or friend accompany you to your appointment can help you feel calmer. They can provide moral support, allow you to squeeze their hand, engage you in conversation and act as a distraction. Let us know ahead of time that you’ll have a support person with you so we can accommodate them in the appointment room.

Ask Questions

Feeling well-informed about what to expect can reduce feelings of uncertainty and nervousness. Don’t hesitate to ask us detailed questions about the procedures, equipment used, sensations you may experience, etc. We’re happy to walk through each step so you feel prepared and know what to anticipate during your visit.

woman smiling while having dental checkup

During Your Appointment

Tell Us If You Need a Break

We’re always willing to pause or temporarily stop procedures if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need a break. Just say the word or give us a sign, and we’ll immediately discontinue what we’re doing until you say you’re ready again. There’s no rush – we can take as many breaks as needed to keep you comfortable.

Focus on Your Senses

Actively focusing on your senses is a quick grounding technique to manage anxiety. During procedures, notice textures you feel, tools you hear, smells in the room. Describing details engages logical thinking over emotional panic. If you feel anxious, tell us what you hear, see, smell, etc.

Use a Stress Ball

Having a small item to squeeze like a stress ball, putty or a washcloth can help relieve tension during procedures. The physical sensation gives an outlet for the nervous energy caused by anxiety. We can provide a stress ball or you can bring your own item that’s comforting to hold.

Practice Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is one of the most effective ways to activate your relaxation response on the spot. During procedures, try inhaling slowly through your nose, holding for a few counts, and exhaling slowly through your mouth. Keep your breathing deliberate and deep, focusing only on filling and emptying your lungs. This oxygenates your body, counters anxious thoughts and elicits calm.

Use a “Stop Signal”

We can agree on a simple hand signal like raising your palm to let us know you need to pause the procedure at any moment. Having an established “stop” sign can help ease anxiety since you’ll know you have control to call a timeout whenever needed. Don’t hesitate to use the signal as often as you require.

Listen to Music

Wearing headphones with soothing music, nature sounds or other audio can help mask unpleasant noises from dental equipment. It also gives you something familiar and calming to focus on instead of the procedures. Create a playlist ahead of time so you have it ready to help tune out the ambient sounds.

Request Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide/laughing gas combined with oxygen can help induce a relaxed, calming sensation during procedures. If anxiety is preventing you from getting care, ask us about using nitrous oxide to take the edge off. It wears off quickly after use. We’ll monitor you closely to ensure you receive the minimal effective dose.

Consider Oral Sedation

For moderate cases of dental anxiety and phobia, we may recommend prescribing an anti-anxiety pill to take before your visit. Oral sedation medications like Valium work to reduce fear and relax you enough to receive care. We’ll discuss options at your consultation to determine if pre-appointment sedation could benefit you.

Opt for Conscious Sedation

For patients with intense anxiety, conscious sedation allows you to stay completely asleep through procedures. IV medications produce a deep relaxation and memory loss of the event. You breathe independently with continuous monitoring. It requires arrangements ahead of time for safety. If anxiety has prevented you from care, conscious sedation can be very effective.

Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an approach proven to give long-term relief from dental phobia and anxiety when practiced consistently. It involves meeting with a therapist to overcome fears through talk therapy exercises. We can provide referrals to qualified local therapists who specialize in CBT for dental phobia to help you work through the roots of your anxiety.

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Prevent You From Getting Dental Care

With preparation and communication, we can ensure your comfort at every appointment. Please don’t hesitate to talk to us about any concerns you have. We want your visits with Rocky Mountain Smiles to be as stress-free as possible.

The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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