Dealing with Dental Anxiety

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Don't let dental anxiety keep you from the dentist

What is Dental Anxiety?

Dental anxiety, also referred to as dental fear or dental phobia, is the sensation of anxious thoughts or fear that someone experiences when he or she considers or follows through with a dental visit.  Dental anxiety can occur at the mere thought of the dentist, in the days and nights leading up to a dental visit, and at the visit itself.  Some people only experience psychological symptoms, like anxious thoughts or “worst-case-scenarios” playing through their minds.  Others may exhibit physical manifestations of the anxiety.  These might include:

  • Loss of sleep
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Irritability or a short temper

For many people, dental anxiety stops them from seeing a dentist until their dental problem has become an emergency.  Dental anxiety can have a significant impact on your overall health, so it is not something you should ignore.

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

There can be many contributing factors to dental anxiety.  Some people have a combination of these factors causing their fear of facing a dental appointment.  It is important to understand the underlying causes if you hope to overcome your dental anxiety.  Try to identify which ones apply to you.

A Bad Dental Experience in the Past

By far, the most common “cause” of dental anxiety that our patients share with us is that they have had bad dental experiences in their past.  When someone has a bad experience, whether that included pain or other complications, the effects will linger for some time and make it difficult for that person to trust any dentist.

We commonly hear stories of traumatic dental experiences during childhood when a dentist hurt them or didn’t listen to their complains.  Being open about these bad experiences can help you work through your fears with a dentist you trust.

Fear of Injections (Shots)

Many people have a fear of needles, and most necessary treatments to fix dental problems require local anesthetic injections.  It is important to communicate this specific fear with your dentist.  We always want our injections to be as painless as possible.

This fear can actually be leveraged into creating great dental habits.  Because most dental problems that require local anesthetic are preventable, you can avoid dental injections by seeing your dentist regularly for preventive care and taking great care of your teeth at home.

Fear of “Feeling Something”

Many people have felt sensations during dental procedures despite having received local anesthetic.  Some say that they thought they were “numb enough” but could still feel pain while the dentist was working.  A fear of the local anesthetic not working may cause someone to not proceed with important dental treatments.

Discomfort with Unpleasant Sounds, Smells and Tastes

We get it.  Some of the materials we use smell and taste terrible, and the sound of the high-speed handpiece (drill) is not music to your ears.  The great news is that, if we understand this potential anxiety cause, we can take measures to reduce the sensations you experience throughout treatment.  Good communication is key!


Some people experience claustrophobia during dental treatments due to the closeness of the dentist, hygienist, and assistant to the face.  Dental treatment requires your allowing them to use their gloved hands inside your mouth.  For people with claustrophobia, this may incite the fear of being unable to breathe or being unable to remove yourself from a stressful situation.  

Why is Dental Anxiety a Problem?

When left unaddressed, dental anxiety can have a significant impact on your overall health.  People who allow their anxiety to keep them away from the dentist are not receiving the appropriate dental care they need to both repair and prevent dental problems.  The danger lies in the fact that most dental problems do not cause any noticeable symptoms until they are severe.  

When you skip dental visits due to anxiety or fear, you could be allowing cavities and gum disease to get worse and worse.  By the time you are aware of any problems, they could put you at risk for a dangerous, spreading infection!  It is rare, but possible, for people to die as the result of dental infections that spread into the airway, bloodstream or brain.  

What are the Options to Treat Dental Anxiety?

At Premier Dental of Ohio, we want to provide excellent dental care to the people of our communities, including those who suffer from dental anxiety.  In addition to providing a trustworthy and compassionate environment, we offer several sedation dentistry options to alleviate dental anxiety during a dental visit.

Nitrous Oxide (“Laughing Gas”)

Nitrous oxide is a medication aimed specifically at anxiety.  It is not a sedative, but instead is in a class known as anxiolytics.  That word simply means killing anxiety.  Often referred to as simply nitrous or laughing gas, the patient inhales this medication through a nosepiece during dental treatments to reduce anxiety and help him or her undergo the necessary procedure.

Laughing gas is not a sedative, but it will provide a feeling of relaxation while you breathe it.  It is a wonderful option for mild to moderate dental anxiety.  In addition to reducing anxiety, it has a mild amnesia-like effect, which makes the appointment seem much shorter than it actually was.  Most people describe a reduced awareness of various sensations during the appointment.  Laughing gas is perfectly safe, with no lingering “hangover” effect, so you can return to work (or a child to school) immediately afterward.

Oral Sedation

With oral sedation, the dentist prescribes a sedative medication in the form of a pill to be administered before the dental appointment begins.  These sedative medications are typically relatives of Valium, and they cause most patients to fall asleep during their treatment.  Even those who do not fall asleep remain relaxed and do not remember their visit.  During oral sedation, patients may sleep but still remain responsive to instructions.  

Oral sedation does lead to a lingering effect, and patients must take the day off work and not drive for a minimum of 12 hours following the procedure.  Oral sedation provides varying degrees of “sleep” because the patient’s metabolism of the drug can vary widely.  

IV Sedation

IV sedation is the option providing the most predictable and reliable sedative effect for a patient with extreme dental fear.  When a dental anesthesiologist administers sedative medication intravenously, he or she is able to continuously monitor and adjust the level of sedation in order to keep the patient as comfortable as possible.  This means that IV sedation is actually safer than oral sedation.

We do not offer IV sedation in every Premier Dental of Ohio office, so make sure you specify this when making an appointment.

More Questions about Dental Anxiety?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to ask specific questions about which treatment options they provide.  Across all of our offices, we offer the full range of treatments for helping our patients overcome dental anxiety.  It is our goal for every person to receive the vital dental care he or she needs to maintain great overall health!

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