Guide to Dental Anxiety | Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety at the Dentist

Guide to Dental Anxiety | Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety at the Dentist

Are you feeling nervous about an upcoming dental visit? You aren’t alone, with studies showing 1 in 6 Australian adults, and 1 in 10 Australian children feel the effects of dental anxiety.

It’s quite normal to feel a bit nervous before any dental appointment. However, if you find your dental anxiety is forcing you to avoid any form of treatment entirely, like your regular dental check-ups, then the ramifications to your health can be great.

“The reasons for dental anxiety are often related to previous memories and experiences, such as sensory perceptions of a dental or medical appointment that didn’t go well, or an uncomfortable experience in the dental chair,” explains general dentist Dr Ian Davies.

“These can create powerful subconscious responses that can have long-lasting impacts on your ability to access appropriate care. Over time, this may mean that your dental issues go undetected or untreated.”

Luckily, for those with dental anxiety, we have many strategies that can help make your visit a pleasant one. After all, your dental health not only impacts your smile but your overall health, from your heart to your lungs.

Common Causes of Dental Anxiety

There are many reasons that people feel uneasy about a dental appointment. Dental anxiety often stems from negative past-experiences with dental treatment, and these feelings can stay with people for many years.

Anxiety may even stem from childhood memories or a seemingly unrelated experience such as a traumatic event. Some of the most common causes of dental anxiety are –

  • Anxiety triggers, such as the smell & sound of a medical practice
  • Existing anxiety issues, such as claustrophobia or panic disorder
  • Previous negative dental or healthcare experiences
  • Fear of restraint, pain or invasive health treatment
  • Underlying psychological reasons
  • Being forced into treatment at a young age
  • Feeling of a loss of control during dental treatment

“As a patient-focused dental practice, it is our goal to ensure that you never feel rushed while we discuss your dental problems. Our goal is to make you as comfortable as possible while being mindful of your underlying anxiety or your concerns regarding dental treatment,” Dr Davies continues.

Modern dentistry provides many treatment options that are less invasive, have a longer lifespan and require less time in the dental chair. You have more choices when it comes to your dental treatment, and often the ways we provide dentistry in a modern practice setting is very different from the experiences older patients had as a child.

Discussing Your Fears
(& Breaking the Cycle)

The first step to calming any existing dental anxiety is to let your dentist know about your fears, so you can begin discussing them directly.

“An honest and trusting relationship can be built between you and your dentist that allows you to overcome your fears. This will allow you to take control of your health again,” says Dr Ian Davies.

“Dentists are accustomed to discussing anxiety with patients – and it is important to know that you are not alone and many other people feel this way too. It is our role to help our patients work through their fears, so they can receive dental treatment comfortably with peace of mind.”

The effects of dental anxiety can accumulate, particularly if it is causing a prolonged gap between dental visits. This can create a cycle where dental help becomes increasingly harder to access, but this cycle can be broken in many cases with the right communication, education and treatment options.


dental anxiety cycle

Over time, the effects of dental anxiety can become overwhelming – particularly if you are missing key dental appointments. Stop the cycle by talking to your dentist.

Making Your Appointment Comfortable

We take multiple steps to create a tranquil environment for your dental appointment.

The first step is to identify any underlying issues or past experiences that may be impacting your ability to access dental care and to start building confidence and a feeling of privacy about overcoming your dental anxiety as a team with your dentist.

Just discussing your issues with your dentist over the phone or in person, before your dental appointment, can help put you at ease and ensure that you are receiving appropriate strategies to help minimize your anxiety. The benefit of this approach is that you can start before you even enter the dental practice – or any other place that prompts you to feel anxious.

During your appointment, some of the ways we can provide extra comfort for your appointment include –

  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Calming music & overhead TV
  • A friendly & approachable dental team
  • Reflexology massages
  • Holistic dental options
  • Sedation Dentistry

Our goal is to try and create an environment where you can relax, and create new positive dental health experiences. As you replace your negative experiences with new positive ones, it is possible to change your perception of dentistry entirely.

“The brain is a flexible network, and certain perspectives and behaviours can become engrained subconsciously. We hope the environment we create with our patients, helps them forge new positive perceptions about receiving dental treatment,” says Dr Ian Davies.

“Over the long-term, this can lead to vast improvements to health and quality of life – not just in terms of your teeth, but also flow on effects such as improved self-confidence, and appreciation of your dental health.”

What About Sedation Dentistry?

Sedation dentistry is the use of certain medications during your dental appointment to help you maintain a calm or almost sleep-like state.

We provide oral sedation in our practice but do not offer general anaesthetic (GA) or intravenous sedation (IV) directly. However, our dentists can help manage your treatment and provide any referrals to the relevant dental professionals that you need to access alternative types of sedation.

So what is oral sedation?

An accessible and cost-effective option for many patients, oral sedation uses a mix of local anaesthetic and oral sedatives (such as Benzodiazepines) to create a calm and peaceful state of mind during treatment without causing you to fall completely unconscious.

While other forms of sedation can raise the perils of an unresponsive patient, oral sedation is available in the dental chair and does not require a hospital visit, general anaesthetic or an anaesthetist.

“Sedation dentistry promotes a calm & relaxed state. However, during oral sedation you are still conscious and able to respond. This means you retain the ability to communicate at all times, and the effect is similar to a person falling asleep,” says BOH Prosthodontist Dr Mark Elliott.

“The benefit of this approach is that you feel the calm, and feel less of the direct sensations during your dental treatment. However, if required, you can you can still respond to questions and provide the dentist with any concerns while treatment progresses.”

The medications used during oral sedation are chosen specifically based on your medical history, age, body-type, and any other medications you use. In some cases, we may also discuss your existing health issues with your GP and other medical professionals. For these reasons, it is important to discuss your existing medications with your dentist, including prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies.

“To ensure your safety, the Australian Dental Association provides your dentist with access to a Drug Information service. This service helps to minimize the risk of drug interactions, and your dentist will use this to liaise with ADA professionals – such as Clinical Pharmacist Dr Geraldine Moses,” says Dr Elliott.

Often, as we build positive experiences with our patients, we find that the dental anxiety surrounding treatment begins to subside. As your negative experiences are replaced with positive ones, you may find that your stress level is reduced to a point where Sedation Dentistry is no longer necessary.