Overcoming Dental Phobias and Fears

Woman in a dental chair that is covering her mouth in fear while dental professionals have dental tools by her face.

Do you dread the thought of having to go to the dentist, even for a cleaning? Often, patients have dental phobias or fears that make them either uncomfortable at the dental office or downright afraid. When your dental fears lead to anxiety, panic and dread, it could actually be a dental phobia. Up to 15% of people have dental phobias, which can induce panic attacks even thinking about dental work. Learn how sedation dentistry can help you overcome skipping dental visits due to dental phobias!


Dental Visits: Do You Need Them?

Did you know that the American Dental Association recommends visiting the dentist at least twice a year for comprehensive exams and dental cleanings? These are simple services that have a great impact on your dental health. With comprehensive exams, dentists can spot the signs of oral cancer and oral health diseases. They can use x-ray imaging to detect surface and internal cavities that can lead to tooth loss.


With dental cleanings, dental hygienists and dentists can work together to remove plaque and stuck-on tartar (mineralized plaque) from the teeth. Gum pockets can be accessed and cleaned to help reduce gingivitis (gum disease) problems. Oral cancer screenings can be done in less than 2 minutes, which saves lives every year. With swift detection of oral cancer, patients have a high rate of stopping it.


However, despite all the advantages that these simple dental visits can give patients, only about 65% of people actually visit a dentist each year. Of that percentage, many are only seeing a dentist once a year. It’s no surprise, then, that over 64.7 million American adults have gum disease and 92% of people have tooth decay. Busy schedules, lack of income and dental phobias are main factors in people skipping dental visits. This can lead to tooth loss and very severe oral health issues that will take extensive dental work to fix.


Close-up view of a young male patient with a laughing gas mask on his face.

Dental Phobias: They’re Real

Dental phobias aren’t simply not liking dental visits at times. Many people do just fine having some anxiety about dental work. However, with dental phobias, real health problems can develop from the anxiety and fear set-on by the thought of visiting the dentist. People with dental phobias can have physical responses to being in dental offices and even thinking about dental work. The type of responses people can have include:

  • Intense, unreasonable fear
  • Panic attacks
  • Severe anxiety
  • Fainting or dizzy spells
  • Extreme tense or pressure, which lead to a lower pain threshold
  • Physical sickness
  • Nervousness
  • Crying
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble sleeping before dental visits
  • Feeling helpless


Most people have fears of dental shots or dental drills used in dentistry. This is generally due to the pain that these instruments can sometimes cause. A patient may also have had a negative dental experience in the past. Dental phobias aren’t something that a patient can simply put behind them or something where they can “suck it up”. It takes time to overcome, and we try to help them do that with sedation dentistry.


Woman sitting in a dental chair smiling, doing a thumbs-up while a dentist is in the background.

Sedation Dentistry Can Help

For patients with dental phobias, sedation dentistry was created to help them through dental visits so they can still receive their dental work without all the anxiety. Sedation dentistry consists of medical treatments that can help patients relax or to even forget their dental visit. These treatments for dental phobias include:

  • Oral Sedation: If you have dental phobias, you can actually be prescribed sedatives that you take by mouth. You take this medication before your dental visit or procedure. Some medications allow you to avoid dental shots while remaining pain-free during your procedure. Other oral sedatives can allow you to be calm and relaxed while you’re fully conscious, but you won’t remember the procedure itself.
  • Laughing Gas: This gas is nitrous oxide, or a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. It’s used for children and patients that need light sedation and comes in the form of a facemask that delivers light gas flows to a patient’s nose. Sometimes, this gas even comes with soothing scents. As you breathe in the gas, it simply helps you to relax throughout your procedure. It’s called “laughing gas” because it can make you feel happy, even to the point of laughing.
  • IV Sedation: Some patients don’t want to be conscious at all during their dental procedure and that is perfectly fine. For dental work that is more in-depth (such as wisdom teeth removal), this is a great sedation dentistry option. You will have a small IV in your arm that will allow you to sleep during your procedure and that will allow you to be pain-free.


Habits At Home Can Reduce Dental Phobias

When people are anxious about going to the dentist, they can reduce how often they have to receive dental work if they are practicing the right habits at home. Make sure you are brushing your teeth 2 or more times every single day, for at least 2 minutes at a time. Use fluoride toothpaste and treatments to make teeth stronger against decay. Floss your teeth 1-2 times a day to get the 40% of tooth surfaces that brushing misses. Scrape the floss against your teeth as you floss to remove stuck-on plaque. Use mouthwash that can kill decay-causing bacteria as it freshens breath.


These are all great measures to keep your teeth healthy in the first place, helping you to avoid extensive dental work. With the right oral hygiene habits at home, you may only need dental cleanings and quick exams, which don’t require shots or drills at all. If you have dental phobias, start working on those habits. For times when you have cavities or need dental work done, you can combat your dental phobias with sedation dentistry. To ask what we use at our office, call Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies today at (970) 223-8425!