Understanding Dental Anxiety: Causes and Coping Mechanisms

Understanding Dental Anxiety: Causes and Coping Mechanisms

Fear of the dentist is surprisingly common. In fact, according to surveys by Dental Phobia, up to 53% of people in the UK report feeling anxious or stressed about going to the dentist.   

For around 17% of the population, dental anxiety is so severe that they avoid checkups and essential treatments altogether. 

In this blog post, we explore the causes and effects of dental anxiety, which can range from mild unease to extreme phobia.  

Things like drills, needles and the clinical environment itself can trigger nervousness and fear. When anxiety becomes so overpowering that it leads to avoidance, oral health suffers. 

Our goal is to help readers understand where dental anxiety comes from and offer coping strategies to make visits to the dentist less stressful. By facing fears instead of avoiding them, we can take control of dental health and anxiety.  


Understanding Dental Anxiety 

To get started, let’s take a look at the definition of dental anxiety: 

Dental anxiety refers specifically to fear or apprehension about going to the dentist or receiving dental care. It is distinct from general anxiety and is considered a type of specific phobia. Individuals with dental anxiety experience intense distress when having to undergo dental examinations and procedures. 

There are various reasons why someone may develop dental anxiety. A common cause is fear of pain during dental work. If someone has suffered pain or discomfort in a past dental experience, they may come to expect and dread the same during future visits. Some other potential causes of dental anxiety are: 

  • Embarrassment about the appearance of teeth.  
  • Some individuals may even have a fear of needles, drills or other dental equipment.  
  • Loss of control is another source of anxiety, as patients have to sit still and surrender control to the dentist during invasive procedures.  
  • Negative portrayals of dentistry in media or stories from family/friends can also shape fearful attitudes. 


So, what are the consequences of dental anxiety on oral health? 

Avoiding regular dental care due to anxiety can allow oral health problems to develop or worsen. Without professional cleanings, exams and early interventions, conditions like cavities, gum disease and tooth decay are left untreated.  

This can lead to more complex issues and treatments down the line, creating a vicious cycle as invasive procedures lead to more anxiety!  

Poor oral health negatively impacts overall health and quality of life, and we believe that addressing dental anxiety is important for maintaining good oral and physical health. 

We understand dental anxiety and work hard to create an environment that protect you from it, take a read of what our fabulous patient Shaun Price had to say: 

“Second visit here , signed up for a permanent plan. Very impressed with information and professionalism. Everything explained to me, never a fan of going to the dentist but Anastasia was so reassuring and gentle unlike some dentists I’ve visited . I would highly recommend this practice to everybody. Covid procedures spot on so I felt safe and comfortable.” 


Strategies to Alleviate Dental Anxiety 

How can you alleviate dental anxiety? Let’s run through a few examples: 


Discussing dental fears and anxieties openly with your dentist allows them to provide reassurance and work with you to maximise comfort. We’re always here to talk! 

Pain Management 

Modern dentistry uses local anaesthetics and technology like lasers to effectively prevent pain during procedures. Just ask us about options for pain control. 

Sedation Dentistry 

Sedation methods like nitrous oxide, oral sedatives or intravenous anaesthesia can induce relaxation and reduce anxiety as needed, especially for extensive treatments. 

Gradual Exposure 

People with dental phobia can gradually expose themselves to dental environments/procedures to slowly confront fears and build tolerance over time.  

Remember, starting small is key. Here at Mola Dental, we offer a welcoming and safe environment for all patients, no matter how big the fear is. But don’t take it from us; take it from Tony Thompson: 

“I have always suffered from nervous tension when visiting the dentist, so much so that to be honest I didn’t go as often as I should have. I am really pleased to say that since I started to visit Chet a couple of years ago, I no longer have that problem. All the team are really good, and Chet has some great ideas about how to put you at ease and relax you whilst having your check-ups and treatment. I now have a dental plan and have regular visits and I would happily recommend them to anyone.” 


Support Resources for Dental Anxiety  

You’re not alone, and dental anxiety is more common than you think. There are plenty of support resources that you can tap into; here are just a few: 

Support groups: Online and in-person support groups allow people to share personal experiences about dental anxiety in a judgement-free setting. Connecting with others facing similar struggles can provide validation, advice and encouragement.  

Therapeutic approaches: Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective way to manage anxiety. CBT helps identify unhelpful thought patterns and replace them with more rational, positive thinking. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing may also be helpful.  

Dental anxiety management programmes: Some dental practices offer specialised programmes for anxious patients. These take a patient-centred approach, allowing extra time in appointments for discussions and breaks.  

We like to consider ourselves a support resource for dental anxiety; that’s why we’re proud to show off our patient reviews like Anne’s: 

“I can’t recommend Chet and his team at Mola Dental highly enough. As a former dental phobic, they have changed my perception of dentistry. Their calm, reassuring manner puts you instantly at ease. I have had fillings, bridge work, root canal and an extraction. All were pain free. Chet even identified an auto immune condition I never knew I had! Can’t ask for more than that. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.” 


The good news is dental anxiety is manageable. Being proactive by communicating concerns with your dentist, utilising pain management options, considering sedation if necessary and slowly acclimatising through exposure therapy can help. 

We encourage anyone struggling with dental nerves or phobias to know you are not alone. With compassionate dental teams and the right coping strategies, it is possible to overcome dental anxiety.  

Do not neglect your oral health – take steps to address anxiety today so you can feel empowered and comfortable receiving the dental care you need. 


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