Dental anxiety and phobias

Help and information if you or a family member feels worried about visiting the dentist

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Around 36% of adults have a fear of the dentist1

According to research, 36%1 of adults have a fear of the dentist, and a further 12%1 suffer from extreme dental anxiety. So, if it’s something that affects you, you’re not alone. Even if you don’t mind the dentist, it’s likely you’ll have a family member who does struggle with dental anxiety.

Whether you need some guidance for yourself, or want to support a family member, we’re here to help. Being a nervous patient shouldn’t get in the way of your dental health, and our dentists are experienced in treating nervous patients.

What’s more, if you tell your dentist that you’re nervous, they can prepare and make sure your visit is as stress-free as possible – from the moment you step through the door to the moment you leave.

Around 25%2 of the UK population haven’t been back to the dentist since the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s never too late to improve your oral health, even if you’ve avoided seeing the dentist for years.

Information and tips on managing dental anxiety

Hear from Bupa expert Amy Polly about practicing mindfulness to ease anxiety


Who are you and what do you do?

Hello, my name is Amy Polly.

I am a mindfulness teacher, an international speaker,

and a neurodiversity advocate.

Where does dental anxiety come from?

So I'm here to have the conversation with you

to support you with those feelings of anxiety.

But if you want to learn more about dental anxiety,

you can click on the link

and hear the conversation with the Bupa dental expert.

What is mindfulness?

So, mindfulness, if you look it up in the dictionary, says,

paying attention to the present moment with no judgement .

But I like to simplify it even further to say

that mindfulness simply means awareness or attention.

We all have the ability to choose where to put our attention

or our awareness, but often we don't choose where to put it.

We're very distracted.

So mindfulness is the practise of training our brain

to consciously choose where we're putting our awareness,

where we're putting our attention.

Can mindfulness help with dental anxiety?

Mindfulness can be really useful for dental anxiety.

It can be useful for any type of anxiety or nervousness.

It absolutely can help to rewire your brain, especially

for those things that might induce anxious feelings.

How can mindfulness help a nervous/anxious dental patient?

So there's lots of ways that mindfulness might help.

It could be from the point that you even need

to call the dentist all the way

to actually being in the dentist's chair.

And the reason that mindfulness can really help is

because it can help you to be aware of what you are thinking

and those thoughts that might be

impacting how you are feeling.

And then we can use some

of our mindfulness techniques like breathing and meditation

and noticing our body to take us out of that thinking,

bring us to the moment, and to alleviate some of that stress

and that anxious feeling.

Why is mindfulness helpful with anxiety?

Okay, so the reason that mindfulness can be really useful

for anxiety is this.

Think about your mind when it goes

off and wonders to the past.

Sometimes it wonders to the future,

but when we're practising mindfulness,

we're very much in the here and now.

Anxious thoughts are in the future.

They are fears that we have about

something that might happen.

That hasn't happened yet.

That's what anxiety is,

and mindfulness keeps bringing us back to the present moment

so that we're able to actually think about

what is happening right here, right now,

rather than worrying about the future.

What technique can I use if I'm nervous about calling up for an appointment?

So, there's things we can do even

before we're calling up for our dentist appointment.

And one of the things that can really help is

breathing techniques.

So we really want to be able to bring ourselves

to the moment and calm down our nervous system.

So if we elongate our out breath slightly,

that activates our parasympathetic nervous system,

which is our rest and digest.

And that can really help to calm you down

and alleviate some of that nervous or anxious feeling.

So one of the breathing techniques I like

to use is breathing in for four, hold

for four and out for six.

And do this a few times before you make the phone call.

So it brings you to the moment,

you alleviate some of those feelings.

Some of those thoughts will float away,

and then you can make the phone call.

What technique can I use if I'm nervous when I'm on the way to an appointment?

So a fantastic technique when you're on the way

to an appointment or anywhere that might be causing you

to feel a bit nervous

or anxious, is to actually notice things

that are going on around you.

So you can do this when you're driving,

when you're on the train, or when you're walking,

and actually label the things that you can see.

Label the things that you can hear, label the things

that you can smell.

By doing this, you take yourself out

of your chattering mind, bring yourself to the moment,

and shift that focus, shift that energy.

So give that a try when you're on the way

to your appointment and see how it might just calm you down

and bring you to the moment.

What technique can I use if I'm nervous when I'm in the waiting room before an appointment?

Now thinking about when we're in the waiting room

before an appointment, something

that might really help is a visualisation,

because the waiting room might not feel like a very

safe place to you.

Although you are safe and all is well.

It might be helpful to visualise somewhere

where you feel safe and you feel relaxed.

That might be somewhere that you go with friends.

It might be your home.

It might be your favourite place to have dinner.

It might be your favourite holiday destination.

It does not matter where it is,

but you can just take a few moments

to really visualise being there, visualise

what it feels like to be there,

and just allow yourself to just calm down,

feel what it feels like to relax in a place

where you feel safe, and take a few deep breaths.

What technique can I use if I'm nervous when I'm in the dentist chair?

Now we're thinking about being in the dentist chair,

and I understand what it's like to feel anxious

or nervous in certain situations.

And it might not be appropriate to focus on your breathing

because that might feel a little bit uncomfortable,

or you might not be able to do

that if somebody is examining your teeth.

So what I want you to do is to focus on your body

instead, think about what it feels like to wiggle your toes,

to feel the weight of your feet in the moment,

to really feel the weight of your body,

to relax your shoulders, and to just soften your face.

And by bringing your awareness

and your attention to your body, it just helps

to calm you down.

Take away all of that thinking

and be really present in the moment

and know that you are safe and all is well.

Do you have an example of where you have used these techniques successfully?

So I have actually used these techniques with my mum,

who does really struggle with going to the dentist.

She gets very anxious and very nervous,

and she knows all about mindfulness.

And so we used some of these techniques specifically for her

and we did that for when she had to make the phone call.

We did that on the day of the appointment,

and she even used it when she was sat in the dentist chair,

and I'm glad to say it really helped her,

and she has been back to the dentist again.

Do these techniques work on both adults and kids?

So these techniques are brilliant for adults and children.

You just have to maybe just adapt them slightly.

But one of the wonderful things about kids is they

don't really question why.

So if I think about my five-year-old,

I started teaching him breathing techniques when he was very

small and he never asked me why.

I just said to him that it would make him feel a little bit

better when he was feeling worried about something

or he had some pain, or he was agitated,

and now it comes really naturally to him.

So just think about doing it together rather than

getting them to do it on their own.

It helps you as well, and don't over explain it.

Just go in with something simple like a breathing technique,

noticing your body or imagining being somewhere

that makes you feel happy and safe.

Is there only one way to do mindfulness?

So there are lots of different ways

to practise mindfulness.

Mindfulness isn't just meditation.

Mindfulness is the umbrella term that we give to anything

where you are consciously choosing to be aware,

and you are very present with that thing that you're doing.

So it could be a breathing meditation,

it could be a body scan meditation.

It could be going running, it could be yoga,

it could be even eating your favourite meal

or brushing your teeth.

It's all about how you choose to focus on the thing

that you are doing.

What is the science behind mindfulness?

The science behind mindfulness, I love this bit.

If mindfulness is about paying attention.

If mindfulness is about choosing where we put our awareness,

we know that when we do that, our brain doesn't know

what we're paying attention to.

All our brain knows is

that we are engaging our prefrontal cortex.

So that's the rational part of our brain.

And when we're engage in the rational part of our brain

during something like a mindfulness practise

or a meditation, it then becomes easier for us to use

that part of our brain when we need it.

And that means that we can recognise when we're having

thoughts that aren't very useful to us,

that might be causing us

to have some anxiety or nervousness.

So it's all about having an awareness of

what we're doing in the moment, but also

of what our mind is doing.

And the science absolutely backs this up

because it shows mindfulness

and meditation activates different parts of your brain

and creates new connections.

How do you know if mindfulness is helping?

So when we start practising mindfulness,

often we don't notice a difference straight away.

It's just one of those things like if you were going

to the gym and you started lifting weights,

you wouldn't notice a change immediately.

But the more that you practise, the easier it becomes

and then you'll start to notice things such as noticing

that you are thinking when you are thinking,

which is a really powerful tool when it comes

to managing our anxiety.

Actually having the ability to be aware of your thoughts

as you are having them means

that you can change your thoughts as you are having them.

Techniques to ease dental anxiety

Need some extra help with easing your anxiety? We have a range of options to help make your dental visits calmer and more relaxing. These include:

Causes of dental anxiety, and how we can help

Dental anxiety can be caused by a number of different reasons. Here are some common causes and how we can help you overcome them.

Help with other dental worries

How Bupa can help you and your family

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Dental Care Limited. Registered in England and Wales No: 00478127. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care, Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

Oasis Dental Care Limited has a number of trading names including Bupa Dental Care. For a list of all our different trading names please follow this link.

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