Fear of pain and negative ideas about the practice of dentistry is a relatively common problem for both children and adults. Anxiety can stem from previous bad experiences, fear of the unknown, feeling loss of control or a sensory response to the unmistakable  sounds and smells in a dental office. If you avoid the dentist because you suffer from anxiety or a full-blown phobia, you're may be putting your mouth at risk.

Michael Krochak, DMD, founder and director of the Dental Phobia Treatment Center of New York, understands these fears and points out another dental conundrum. "Many people who have neglected their teeth over time, also feel embarrassed," he explains. "Sometimes the fear of embarrassment can even be stronger than the original fear of going to the dentist."

Not to worry, says Krochak, a supportive dentist and his staffs understand—and are accustomed to dealing with—these realities so you should find them easy to communicate. "If you don't feel 100 percent comfortable with the care you are getting, move on and seek care somewhere else by asking friends, family and coworkers how they feel about their dentists."

Timely dental care not only helps prevent oral disease and lost teeth, but may also play a role in preventing other health problems that can arise when bacteria from your mouth gets into your bloodstream.

How to Face Your Fears

1. Find a dentist or clinic that specializes in the needs of fearful patients. A dentist who caters to anxious patients will take extra time to address fears and likely has television screens and/or other distractions available within sight of the dental chair. A fully staffed clinic may even have a psychologist available to help you work through your fears.

2. Inform the entire staff. Address your concerns to everyone in the office who is involved in your care. When all members of the dental team know exactly what concerns you, they can better accommodate your specific needs. They can explain procedures and also remind you that their ultimate goal is to keep you healthy and prevent pain, not inflict it.

3. Arrive on time. Don't be early for a dentist appointment; your anxiety will only build sitting in the waiting room.

4. Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery. Biofeedback may also help reduce anxiety by raising your awareness of the physical effects anxiety has on your.

5. Create a distraction. When editors at Harvard Health asked readers to blog about what they do to alleviate fear at the dentist, the responses included: listening to calming music, funny podcasts, or book readings on their iPods and MP3's.

6. Consider medication. Dentists can use a variety of anti-anxiety and sedating medicines, along with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help fearful patients.

7. Find support. Online support groups and forums, such as those found on Dental Fear Central and Daily Strength sites, provide 24/7 access to message boards and information

8. Take care of your teeth. The more you brush, floss and take care of your gums at home the less time you will have to spend at the dentist.

Michael Krochak, DMD, reviewed this article.



Buchanan H. and Coulson, N. "Accessing Dental Anxiety Online Support Groups: An exploratory Qualitative Study of Motives and Experiences." Patient Education & Counseling 66(3):263-269 Web Dec 2012

Daily Strength: Dental Anxiety Support Group

Dental Fear Central

Harvard Health Blog: Dental Fear? Our Readers Suggest Coping Techniques Web Dec 2012

University of Washington School of Dentistry: Dental Fears Research Clinic Web Dec 2012