How to Overcome Fear and Anxiety Before Your Next Dentist Appointment

Don't let dental anxiety keep you from the dentist

Are you dealing with dental anxiety?

If you find yourself dealing with dental anxiety, you’re definitely not alone. Studies show that as many as 50% to 80% of adults deal with some degree of dental anxiety, ranging from mild to severe. There are so many reasons someone might feel anxious about visiting their dentist, and all of them are valid.

For some, it goes back to childhood. A past traumatic experience with anything can make you nervous about trying it again. Sometimes it comes down to uncomfortable sounds, misconceptions about treatment, or a fear of needles, the drill, gagging, or the dentist themselves.

Maybe you were told as a child that if you didn’t brush your teeth, they would fall out, and now you’re concerned about what your dentist might say when they examine your teeth. You might be finding yourself in the vicious cycle of not going to the dentist because you’re worried about what will be said, missing important dental cleanings, and your dental health getting worse.

Does that sound familiar at all? It can feel really lonely, but don’t worry! It’s more common than you may think, and we’re excited to help you.

It might help you to know that your dentist sees it differently.

When you come to our office in need of a lot of dental work, we don’t see you as a failure or a problem. We see your smile as an opportunity, and we feel honored that you came to us for help. We want to accommodate you and make sure you’ll be comfortable. Your part is to just let us know what your concerns and questions are.

What You Can Do Before Your Appointment

First, call the dentist’s office and explain your anxiety. The Staley Dental team works with a number of patients who have dental anxiety, and we have options that can help. Talk to your dental team and discuss which option is the best for you. Staley Dental offers many accommodations for your comfort, up to sedation dentistry.

Get ready for your dentist appointment beforehand. Write down and practice a list of coping skills you can use, such as meditation or other calming activities. Prepare a playlist of your favorite soothing music to listen to while at the dentist. We love to see our patients come in prepared. And it doesn’t have to be music; you can listen to something funny, interesting, or distracting if that helps more.

Get creative. Ask a friend to go along with you and distract you before or during your appointment. Take some time ahead of your appointment to relax. You can also plan to do something fun or relaxing directly afterward, which will give you an incentive to look forward to.

To Help With Dental Anxiety in the Waiting Room

From the moment you walk in the door until you head out with a healthier smile, your comfort is our top priority. Communication is key every step of the way. If you have a fear of being in a busy waiting room, ask about a special seating arrangement. While you wait, there are coping skills you can try. Find one that helps you.

Stop Technique

The STOP technique is a good one to try if you find your mind racing with stress.

  • S: Stop what you are doing.
  • T: Take a deep breath.
  • O: Observe and name your thoughts and emotions.
  • P: Proceed with something that will help you in the moment.

Box Breathing

Box Breathing is another simple and effective method. Slowly inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for a count of four, then slowly exhale for four seconds, and hold your breath for another slow count to four. Pay attention to the feeling of the air entering and leaving your abdomen. Ideally, you’ll want to repeat this cycle four times in one sitting. Deep breathing like this can help calm and regulate your nervous system and help you feel more ready for your appointment.

Managing Dental Anxiety During Your Appointment

Talk to Us

Again, communication is key. If you have any questions about how a procedure or examination is done, or if you want to learn about alternative options, ask questions and share your concerns. We are more than happy to listen, and we have plenty of alternative options to offer. Advances in dental technology have allowed us to use innovative, minimally invasive technology, such as laser dentistry for many treatments, including whitening and fillings.


Bring or ask for a mirror so you can watch what’s going on. Sometimes seeing how things are done helps relieve the anxiety that comes with the procedure. Use Vicks® VapoCOOL™ Throat Spray if you have a problem controlling your gag reflex. Come up with an agreed hand signal with your dentist so you can communicate if you have a question or if something feels uncomfortable.

Ask about the options you had discussed over the phone to make sure they’re still in place. If sedation dentistry was what was agreed upon, ask every question you have about it.

You may have concerns and questions that aren’t related to dental anxiety. Ask us those too! If you have jaw pain that’s keeping you from your next appointment, deal with migraines from the sound or light, if you’re sensitive to any of the materials or tools used, or anything else, call and find out how we can accommodate you.

Be proud of yourself for conquering your fear!

We know it can be hard to make yourself do something you’re afraid of, but the rewards are great!

  • You’ll be so proud of yourself.
  • You’ll have learned new coping strategies.
  • You’ll have clean, healthy teeth.

Continue visiting your dentist for regular cleanings and checkups, and continue advocating for yourself and asking questions. With time, you will likely find your anxiety and stress diminishing. Visiting the dentist doesn’t have to be dreadful, and after a while you may even begin to look forward to your appointments! Enjoy your clean, healthy teeth, and be proud of yourself for combatting your anxiety.