Understanding dental anxiety

Around 36% of adults have a fear of the dentist, according to research1. And 12% of these suffer from extreme dental anxiety2. So, if it’s something that affects you, you’re not alone.

But being a nervous patient shouldn’t get in the way of your dental health.

Dentists are experienced in treating nervous patients. What’s more, if you tell your dentist that you’re particularly nervous, they can prepare and make sure your visit is as easy-going and stress-free as possible – from the moment you step through the door to the time you leave.

Rest assured that it’s never too late to improve your oral health, even if you’ve avoided seeing the dentist for years due to your phobia.

Get in touch with your local practice to see how they can help ease your dental anxiety.

Causes of dental anxiety, and how we can help

Dental anxiety can be caused by a range of things. Here are some common causes and how we can help you overcome them, to look after your dental health.

  • Fear of pain: It’s easy to let fear of pain during dental treatment slip into your mind and put you off treatment. But your dentist can take every necessary step, including administering local anaesthetic, to relieve any potential pain. They can also offer you techniques to help you feel relaxed, such as sedation, which you can read more about in the section below.
  • Previous experiences: While we understand how bad past experiences can make you wary of future appointments, it doesn’t have to affect your oral health. Our dentists are here to help you feel at ease. And they’re fully qualified and experienced, meaning you’re in the safest possible hands whenever you visit us.
  • Phobia of needles: You should talk to your dentist beforehand if you don’t like needles. They can use numbing gels to minimise discomfort during the injection.

  • Fear of loss of control: The thought of someone putting their hands in your mouth and altering your teeth while you can’t see what’s going on, can seem off-putting. Speak to your dentist about these worries, so they can suggest ways to help you feel comfortable. For example, your dentist could talk you through what they’re doing at each stage or come up with a signal if you want them to stop and take a break during treatment.
  • Confidence in your smile: If you haven’t visited the dentist in a while, even years, due to your anxiety – you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about your smile.
  • The cost of treatment: Money worries can cause unwanted stress and might result in you ignoring dental pain or discomfort. Speak to your dentist about payment options, you’re not alone.
Shaila Patel-Buxton, Dentist at Bupa Dental Care, having a consultation with a nervous patient.

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:

  • Dental sedation
  • Relaxation techniques, including music, tours of the practice and introductions to staff
  • Numbing the area of your mouth where treatment is needed
  • Desensitisation to the noise of the drill (behaviour modification)
  • Referral to a clinical psychologist for hypnotherapy treatment if necessary
  • Local anaesthetic for most treatments. You might need a general anaesthetic for some treatments.

Speak to your local Bupa dentist to find out more about your options. You can also download our guide on managing dental anxiety.

*Image taken before COVID-19

What is dental sedation?

Dental sedation is a way of making you feel more at ease during treatment. It doesn’t put you to sleep like a general anaesthetic; you’re still conscious and able to talk with your dentist. Instead, it puts you into a deeply relaxed state, where you won’t feel any discomfort or pain.

  • Intravenous (IV) sedation: where a sedative is injected into your vein
  • Inhalation sedation: where you inhale a sedative gas through a mask that your dentist places over your nose and mouth.

What’s more, sedation isn’t just for invasive procedures. You can also have it for more routine procedures like hygiene treatment, where your clinician will give you a scale and polish to ensure your teeth are thoroughly clean.

Many of our practices offer dental sedation or can refer you to another Bupa Dental Care practice which does.

What happens after dental sedation?

After you’ve had sedation, and finished your treatment, you’ll recover in-practice to allow its effects to subside. Your clinician will wait to ensure you feel fully recovered before discharging you. We recommend not driving for 24 hours after sedation, so you should arrange for someone to pick you up and take you home. And you should avoid exercise for 24 hours.

You can discuss how sedation works in more detail by booking an appointment at your local Bupa Dental Care practice. Your dentist will happily answer any questions you may have and help put your mind at ease.

Children’s fear of the dentist

Children can also develop dental anxiety. It’s important that if you’re nervous about the dentist, you try not to show this fear to your child, as it might increase their anxiety.

Children are naturally confident if their environment feels safe and familiar. So, at Bupa Dental Care, we like to make our practices feel fun and welcoming. 

How to minimise your trips to the dentist

We recommend you visit your dentist for regular check-ups so they can check on your oral health. Your dentist will advise how often you need to go depending on your individual needs.

You can take steps to help limit visits to the dentist, by maintaining a dedicated oral health routine at home. This should include:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day, for two minutes each time, using fluoride toothpaste (watch our video on how to brush your teeth properly)
  • Flossing every day, as well as brushing, to dislodge any food particles stuck between your teeth – remember to floss before you brush
  • Reducing the frequency you expose your teeth to sugary foods and drinks – for example don’t sip at a sugary drink throughout the day

Get in touch

If you’re nervous about seeing the dentist, please contact your local Bupa Dental Care practice and tell the reception staff about your concerns. We have the tools and experience to help you overcome your anxiety.

Find a dental practice near you

1&2- Beaton L, Freeman R, Humphris G. Why are people afraid of the dentist? Observations and explanations. Med Princ Pract. 2014;23(4):295-301. doi:10.1159/000357223.

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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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