A New York City Dentist Shares Tips for Managing Dental Anxiety

By Dr. Julie Hassid
Dr. Julie Hassid
Dr. Julie Hassid
June 7, 2014 Updated: July 26, 2017

Anxiety at the prospect of going to the dentist prevents many patients from seeking regular dental care. Often, anxious dental patients want proper treatment, but their fear outweighs their desire for a healthy smile. 

They are caught in a cycle that reinforces anxiety because when phobic patients finally arrive for a dental appointment, they are often having an emergency that requires more prolonged treatment. The treatments needed are more invasive, more uncomfortable, and more expensive. 

However, this cycle can be broken. The right dentist combined with technology advances in dentistry can enable dental-phobic patients to become comfortable receiving treatment.

How Dental Phobia Develops 

Dental anxiety most often develops because of a previous traumatic experience in the dental chair, either during childhood or as an adult.

The most common experiences that lead to anxiety are situations in which a patient was not fully numbed or in which the dentist or hygienist did not listen to the patient’s concerns. 

Small Issues Become Big Problems 

Patients who have struggled with a previous bad experience may either completely resist getting proper care or become very fearful and anxious while in a dental office. 

For patients who completely resist routine dental care, small problems may transition into much larger ones. For example, small cavities that can be detected early and treated with a minor filling will develop into larger decay that requires a crown or other more extensive treatment. 

If enough time passes without treatment, a small problem can lead to pain or cracking of teeth, forcing the patient to visit their dentist. Unfortunately, at this stage, more treatment is needed, which can lead to more discomfort and is more costly. 

Breaking the Phobia Cycle 

There are ways to break this cycle and overcome your dental phobia

The first step is to find a dentist who will listen to your concerns. Many times, having a dentist who is mindful of your fears and previous experience is enough to help mitigate the phobias. You should discuss concerns with your dentist and tell him or her what may have initially caused the anxiety. 

Communicating with the dentist about your anxiety will help the dentist ensure that they do not repeat the same experience and make you feel more comfortable while you are being treated. 

De-stressing Tools 

Secondly, you should seek a dental practice that has comforts and amenities to help distract you and make you feel more at ease. For many patients, just hearing the noise of the cleaning tools and drills is enough to induce anxiety. 

Using noise-cancelling headphones, watching movies, and using a stress ball are all ways to help manage your anxiety. Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, also can help you relax, and your dentist should make these available if you want them. 

Finally, there are technologies that can help reduce anxiety. Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD and CAM) technology can reduce the number of dental appointments you have to have and the time of each appointment. 

A practice that offers chair-side CAD or CAM technology is able to complete crowns, onlays (which differ from crowns in that they cover less of the tooth), and veneers in just one visit, without the need for a second appointment, a temporary restoration, or a second injection to re-numb the area. 

In addition, most CAD or CAM technologies eliminate the step of using gooey impression materials, which are uncomfortable for patients. 

Drill Alternative 

For those who feel anxious from the sound of the dental drill, seek a dentist who uses a laser dentistry. Hard tissue lasers can be used to remove small cavities prior to filling a tooth, and in addition, the laser has a numbing effect, so it can often be used without an injection to numb the area. 

Less Painful Injections 

Technology is also available to reduce the initial discomfort experienced during injections. DentalVibe is a device that reduces the pinch of an injection through the use of a soothing vibration around the injection site.

An understanding dentist and modern dental technologies can create a more comfortable experience and help eliminate the common triggers of anxiety if you are dental phobic. 

If you are able to find a practice that can help you manage your anxiety, you will be capable of breaking the cycle of only seeking dental care in emergencies, you and will experience better oral and overall health

Dr. Julie Hassid is a general and cosmetic dentist at Gallery57 Dental. She attended dental school at Tufts University and received additional training at Columbia University and NYU College of Dentistry.

This article was sponsored by Gallery 57 Dental.

Gallery 57 Dental
24 W. 57th St., Suite 701
(Between 6th & 5th Avenues)