Guide for coping with dental anxiety

Coping with dental anxiety is something that most of us experience every time we need to visit the dentist. Regardless of whether you are going for a routine checkup or to get the best invisible braces online, visits to the dentist’s office can be quite scary. In fact, severe dental anxiety affects as many as 20% of individuals. That is why we are going to provide you with several ways how you can cope with the situation. We will cover breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, and more.

 What is dental anxiety?

Simply put, dental anxiety is any combination of fear, anxiety, or stress, that you feel whenever you are about to be in a dental setting or are already in one. Dental anxiety is usually associated with needles, drills, or the general dental setting. Since avoiding the dentist for prolonged periods of time can lead to all sorts of dental issues, it is a problem that needs to be faced.

person in a dentist's office, coping with dental anxiety
Visiting the dentist can be quite scary.

Dental anxiety is usually caused by traumatic dental experiences, previous traumas, or general feelings of anxiety. Fear of loss of control and trust issues are also two of the key components. Some people go as far as to completely avoid any dental appointments due to these feelings. Needless to say, this is not a good choice. Luckily, there are a couple of ways that can help deal with dental anxiety. But before we get to them, you may want to understand the symptoms of dental anxiety.

Symptoms and causes of dental anxiety

Dental anxiety can produce numerous symptoms. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach
  • Panic attacks
  • Shaking
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Aggressiveness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Withdrawal
  • Hyperventilating

The more severe the anxiety is, the more symptoms it produces. And if you are feeling numerous symptoms when you are about to visit the dentist’s office, chances are you are going to postpone it. What is important is to realize the symptoms before figuring out the solution.

What causes dental anxiety?

People fear going to the dentist for a variety of reasons, including negative experiences, fear of injections, fear of dental sounds, the discomfort of having their personal space invaded, etc.

What you need to do is understand your fears. You need to figure out what your reason for fearing the dentist is, and then work on it. By figuring out what you fear the most, you will be capable of choosing the perfect coping method.

How to cope with dental anxiety?

First things first, you always need to let your dentist know that you are feeling anxious. Your dentist can then take steps to make the whole process easier. For example, they can explain each step from start to finish, letting you know what to expect. Anxiety, in its essence, has a lot to do with the fear of the unknown. Asking questions about the things that bother you can significantly help lessen your anxiety, as well.

But this is just the starting point. Most people will need to utilize a few coping techniques alongside the dentist’s explanations. The techniques/methods you can use are:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Distraction
  • Hypnosis
  • Bringing a friend with you
  • Medications
  • Analgesia
  • Conscious sedation
  • Anesthesia
person meditating
Meditation is a great way of coping with dental anxiety.

As you can see, there are quite a few things that you can try. Not every technique or method is suitable for everyone, though. For example, undergoing general anesthesia is something that you do not want to do without a consultation with a doctor. We will detail each coping mechanism in detail, though, so you can see which ones work for you. And which do not.

Breathing exercises for coping with dental anxiety

Breathing exercises are utilized for all sorts of anxiety, including dental anxiety. They can help you feel calmer, relax your mind, and can put you at ease, all on their own. There are numerous breathing techniques that you can employ, some of which include elements from other coping mechanisms, such as guided imagery.

But the basics are really simple, everyone can do these exercises. All you need to do is close your eyes and slowly inhale through your nose. Once you do so, you will want to hold your breath in for a few seconds, after which you exhale through the mouth. Repeat this as many times as necessary, all the while trying to focus on your breathing and nothing else.

Anxiety is basically when your mind keeps sending you negative outcomes. By doing breathing exercises, you are trying to focus your mind on the act of breathing instead of serving you all the bad things that can happen. As with most other coping mechanisms, you can’t expect immediate relief but it gets a lot easier after a while. You don’t want to give up if it is not working after a minute. Give it some time, repeat the exercise, and it will start to work after a while. Think about it for a bit, if you can control your anxiety by breathing alone, there’s no need for any other coping mechanisms. Give it an honest try and see if it works for you.


Meditation is quite similar to breathing exercises. It usually involves focusing on something, whether it is your breath or an object. You can meditate practically anywhere, even while waiting at the dentist’s office. In fact, that is probably where you should be meditating. Meditation can also help you reduce stress, achieve higher awareness, and can promote calmness as well.

What you want to do is sit down, close your eyes (or fix them on a certain object), and relax. You want your body to be completely relaxed, and you will need to pay attention to the parts of your body that are not relaxing. This is easier said than done, and you will most likely have difficulties starting out coping with dental anxiety by meditating. That is alright, you will get better with practice! What you want to do is to make a conscious effort to release tension, making your body relax from head to toe. The beauty of meditation is that it can be done during your appointment, as well. It will require a bit more mental control but it is well worth it.

Guided imagery

If you have a vivid imagination and can project happy feelings simply by thinking of them, guided imagery can be your most powerful tool for coping with mental anxiety. You see, your brain that is providing you with all the negative outcomes can provide you with positive outcomes as well. Most people who have anxiety issues have stronger feelings, both negative and positive. Try to make this work to your advantage, think about funny and positive memories, go to your “happy place”, etc.

person on a mountain
Thinking about locations where you felt happy can help a lot.

Even feeling nostalgic is better than feeling anxious. You also have to understand that thinking about happy feelings when you are overwhelmed by negative feelings can be quite hard. Dealing with anxiety is very hard, no matter the method you choose, that is a simple fact. But here’s another fact. You can do it. Most people with anxiety fall into the trap of thinking they can’t do something. You can, it is within your power. All you need to do is keep at it, practice, and it will become easier.


For lighter cases of dental anxiety, distraction might be the only thing you need to go through a dental appointment. Talk to your dentist, see if they can provide you with something to distract you while they work. You can, perhaps, wear headphones and listen to an audiobook. Or you can watch a movie during the appointment. Any distraction from your inner thoughts is good.


Another way of coping with dental anxiety is through the practice of hypnosis. This is, however, not something that you can do on your own, you will need assistance from a professional hypnotherapist. Basically, hypnosis is there to quiet your conscious mind and create a state of calmness. Patients are introduced to a trance-like state, where it is possible for a hypnotherapist to use the power of suggestion.

If you are worrying about whether a hypnotherapist can make you do something you will not want to do, don’t be. That sort of hypnosis happens only in movies. In “real life”, hypnotherapy is an effective form of anxiety control.

Bringing a friend

person helping another with coping with dental anxiety
Having a friend close by can be of great help.

Sometimes, all you need is for someone familiar to be there with you when you are in the dentist’s chair. The support of a close friend or a relative might be enough to keep you calm. Even if you can’t talk to them, their very presence alone is going to be a lot of help. Your friend or relative can talk through the appointment, providing you with distraction and food for thought. All of that will make it easier to cope with dental anxiety itself.


Medications are one of the things you will want to save for last. While most anxiety issues can be solved with strong medicine, it is generally better if you try other coping mechanisms first. That being said, some dentists may prescribe short-term, anti-anxiety, medication. You will take this medication usually at least one hour before the appointment. The time period depends on the strength of the medication, your medical history, etc. But it may be just what you need to help with coping with dental anxiety.


Analgesia is a type of medication that doctors use to relieve pain in their patients. These over-the-counter drugs can be used to great effect when it comes to fighting dental anxiety. In cases of moderate to low anxiety, simple pain relief works wonders.

Dentists normally utilize nitrous oxide as an analgesic solution. You may have heard about nitrous oxide under its more famous name – laughing gas. If you haven’t, it is an odorless and colorless gas that you can breathe in before the dental procedure starts. It is an excellent way of reducing or eliminating dental anxiety, but it can be on the pricier side. What you may want to do is check with your dental insurance provider whether they cover nitrous oxide. Some plans do, and some plans do not. It is in your best interest to know whether your plan covers it, or your procedure might become prohibitively expensive.

Conscious sedation

The last two coping methods are reserved for moderate to severe anxiety. Conscious sedation involves patients taking an oral sedative before the dentist’s appointment. While you will not be asleep during the procedure, conscious sedation will make you feel relaxed, want it to or not. It is an excellent way of putting a “hard stop” on your anxiety. However, do note that you need to make sure that you will not have any adverse effects from conscious sedation. Before you decide on this form of coping with dental anxiety, talk to your physician first. Sedatives can be dangerous if your body can’t handle them, after all. And you may not be able to figure that out on your own.

General anesthesia

The last coping method you have at your disposal is general anesthesia. It is the “perfect solution” as far as anxiety issues are concerned. Under general anesthesia, you will be asleep for the whole duration of the dental procedure. Normally, this is something reserved only for severe cases of dental anxiety. In those cases, no amount of breathing exercises, distractions, or any other coping methods will help. The patients who feel extreme feelings of panic might all but require general anesthesia, in fact.

Depending on the dentist, you may be able to get the anesthesia inside the dentist’s office. But this is only the case when your dentist has special training. Otherwise, you will need to have the anesthesia administered in a hospital setting. Which means scheduling an anesthesiologist.

As you might imagine, this can be a very costly solution. But if you have severe dental anxiety, chances are that your health insurance plans will cover the cost. You will want to check the terms and conditions, though, as some plans may not cover the cost of anesthesia in some circumstances.

While coping with dental anxiety might be very difficult, it is definitely not impossible. However, you may also experience other issues when it comes to dental health. If you want to know how to deal with them, browse Consumer Opinion Guide, as we have articles that will help you deal with the most common (as well as uncommon) dental issues. And you can also discover the best dental companies to get your products from!

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