Demystifying Dental Anxiety: Strategies for Overcoming Fear and Nervousness

  • 13 June 2013
  • Gentle Dental

Most phobias are caused by a trauma in your past. We are not born with fear. We have to learn it and often it stays long after the event.

People who are afraid of something can experience some or all of the following symptoms.

●      Sweating

●      Dizziness

●      Nausea

●      Shaking

●      Shortness of breath

●      Visual disturbances

Fear in its pure form is a necessary response to danger. It’s known as the “Flight or Fight Response”. The above symptoms are caused by the brain flooding your body with adrenaline to give you the power to run or fight and this works well when you are really physically in danger.

The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between physical danger and a phobia or fear and so it has the same reaction making the problem even bigger.

Strategies for overcoming fear:

Slow breaths

When in fight and flight our breathing becomes rapid and shallow so that the blood can pump more oxygen to the extremities giving you the power to fight or run.  In an environment like the dental surgery, you don’t need that adrenaline, so it just runs around your body giving you pins and needles and making you shake.

The way to stop this is by slowing the breath. You can imagine that there are birthday candles in front of you that need to be blown out, or that you are blowing the seed off a dandelion. Once you have control of the breath you can take slow, breaths from the abdomen. That will halt the production of adrenaline and help you calm down.


Often diverting yourself will help you to overcome the fear. Listen to some music while in the waiting room or read an article in a magazine. The best form of diversion is doing something difficult like counting backwards from 200 in threes. This takes all of your brain power and will stop you thinking about the fear.


If your fear is born out of feeling out of control, then remember that you are in charge while in the dental surgery. The more information that you give the dentist about your concerns and how you would like them to help you the more likely they will be able to help you.


Ultimately it is all about trusting your dental team. Don’t avoid visiting the dentist until you are in pain. If you do that then you will always associate the visits with stressful treatment. Have a full healthy mouth check and build up the relationship over time. That way you will know that the dentist and the assistant are on your side.

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