Ask Hygienist Leah – Easing Dental Anxiety in Adults

April 26th, 2017




By Leah Kinney, RDH, MS

“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I get really nervous before a dental appointment. So much so, that I often put off seeing my dentist and hygienist until I have a problem with one of my teeth. Help!”

I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago about good behavior at the dental office that touched on dental anxiety in kids. After the blog went live, I had several adults reach out to me about their own dental anxiety. Dental anxiety and dental phobia is a real concern for many people. Use the tips below to help make your next dental visit a good one.

Prevent dental problems
The best way to avoid restorative dental appointments (fillings, crowns and other restorations), which are many times reasons for anxiety, is to prevent dental problems in the first place. Preventing dental problems requires good oral care on a daily basis. That said, daily oral hygiene can be difficult for people who suffer from depression, which often occurs in conjunction with dental phobia or anxiety.

If twice-daily brushing and daily flossing isn’t possible, aim to brush at a minimum every night before bed. Brushing at night is critical because food debris and bacteria left on the teeth before sleeping will sit throughout the night and can cause decay.

If you are not currently flossing, start. Daily flossing is best, but be patient with yourself as you develop this habit. You might also consider using a fluoride rinse like this one to further prevent decay. Using a fluoride rinse is especially important if twice daily brushing and daily flossing isn’t possible.

Communicate with your providers
It is very important to let your dental team know that you suffer from dental anxiety and/or phobia so they can give you the best care possible. Consider making rules with your hygienist and dentist to help you feel more in control during the appointment. For example, you and your hygienist may decide that if you raise your hand, he or she will stop working.

Call ahead and talk to the staff about your concerns. If dental cleanings are hard to get through, ask if they would be willing to accommodate two 30-minute appointments for you.

Know your limit and respect it
You have options. Commit to going to the appointment, but don’t set expectations for staying the whole time if it doesn’t work out.

Treat yourself!
Going to the dentist when you have dental anxiety or dental phobia is a huge accomplishment. Celebrate each time you are able to go!

  • Go to a movie
  • Go for a walk outside
  • Take a nap
  • Get your nails done
  • Take a hot bath
  • Get your beard professionally shampooed and groomed
  • Eat a special treat
  • Catch up on Netflix
  • Play a sport with a friend
  • Go for a scenic drive
  • Meditate
  • Play video games
  • Have a nice dinner with your partner

Leah Kinney is a dental hygienist and the Director of Clinical Business Development at Delta Dental of Minnesota.  In her current role, Leah works to educate and empower Minnesotans to take control of their oral hygiene through proper homecare and regular check-ups with their dentist.  Leah received her dental hygiene and undergraduate degrees from Argosy University in Eagan, MN and also holds a master’s degree in legal studies from Kaplan University.