What Can Help? - Ways of Tackling Dental Fears

In the What Can Help section, you can find information on the three main things that can help with overcoming dental phobias and fears:

1. psychological – the way the dentist acts and communicates, and specific techniques dentists can use to help

2. technology and gadgets – new and not-so-new inventions which can make dental treatment more enjoyable

3. sedation – using drugs to make you feel relaxed.

For dentists, there is also a fourth way, and that is local anaesthesia technique (giving comfortable and effective numbing).

The way you tackle your fears needs to be tailored to you as an individual. But generally speaking, we can look at tackling fears (or “dental anxiety management” in dentist-speak) as being a bit like a pyramid:

The Environment

The dental environment, despite being of such huge importance, is often overlooked when it comes to dental anxiety. The environment sets the tone for the whole dental experience – first impressions do count! While we cannot do away with modern dental equipment, many people with dental fears find it really important that the rest of the room doesn’t have a “clinical” feel to it. This means, for example, instruments being hidden from sight as much as possible, artwork instead of photos of smile makeovers, friendly colour schemes, music playing in the background, dentists and staff not dressing in traditional medical outfits, and doing away with the “typical” smells associated with dentistry as far as possible.


The foundation of the pyramid is communication. This means the way your dentist interacts with you (and the way you interact with your dentist). You need to feel at ease with your dentist if you want to overcome your fears, and your dentist needs to know what you fear and how they may be able to help you. Communication also means things like rapport, body language, and using non-threatening language that you can understand. Rapport (a harmonious connection) also implies a relationship of equals, where you don’t perceive your dentist as a threatening or a condescending figure, but as a partner in your care. Communication means that you do things together with your dentist, rather than your dentist doing things to you.

You should only move on to more concrete techniques and options once rapport has been established.

The least invasive approach – that is, psychological techniques – should be considered and tried first.

Psychological Approaches

Psychological approaches include techniques such as tell-show-do, structured time, desensitisation, and other options which you can read about on this site (see the right navigation box). In dentist-speak, these are referred to as behaviour management. While “behaviour management” may sound ominous, it simply means that your dentist will let you gradually get used to new, unfamiliar things, take things slowly, explain things to you, let you know what s/he is doing and what to expect, and so forth.

An integral part of this approach is that any treatment is delivered comfortably and gently.

Inhalation Sedation

If psychological techniques alone do not help you enough, there are then various sedation options. Inhalation sedation (laughing gas) is great for making you feel more relaxed, and it is very much a “participation technique” suited to people who like to feel in control of situations.

IV Sedation

On the other hand, IV (intravenous) sedation may be better suited to those who are more willing to entrust control to another person. It can produce a level of sedation so deep that you may not remember much, or even nothing at all, of what happens during treatment.

IV sedation can also be a good option if you need lots of work doing and you are really worried about it. In this case, you might be better served getting things under control using IV sedation, and then experiment with other methods when you require just a bit of maintenance work. Having said that, if you find yourself a really good dentist, he or she might be able to treat you using other techniques alone, which will be less expensive.

Remembering the treatment and having positive experiences will help you build confidence.

Technology and Gadgets

Also, there have been some exciting technological advances and innovations which can really help with specific fears. For example, the wand has been a real blessing for people with needle phobia, who in the past might have opted for sedation. Handpieces (“drills”) have become quieter, and there is even a device now which allows people to literally stop the handpiece at the press of a button (although it isn’t widely available yet) – ideal for the many people who fear loss of control. Minimally invasive methods such as air abrasion and ozone therapy also hold much promise for delivering gentle care and ensuring that children do not grow up to develop dental fears.

You can find out more about these technologies, as well as about psychological and sedation approaches, by exploring the pages in the right navigation box.