Stop Signals, Coping Signals and Dental Sign Language

Being able to signal to your dentist or hygienist that you’d like to take a break or that you’re uncomfortable is a key component of building trust and giving you control over the situation.

You can do this by agreeing on a stop (or rest) signal. Having a signal to show that you’re doing OK is also a great idea. There’s even a Dental Sign language (scroll down to find out more!).

Stop (or Rest) Signals

The most commonly used signal to indicate that you need a rest or that you’re uncomfortable is raising the left arm.

You can work out an alternative rest signal with your dentist, for example if this isn’t possible due to physical difficulties.

If you have trouble giving the stop signal because you freeze or you don’t want to be a bother, or if you’ve had experiences in the past with a dentist not stopping despite you being in obvious distress, click here for more ideas!

Coping Signals

It’s always nice when your dentist checks on you to see if you’re coping. Seeing how it can be difficult to talk properly during dental treatment, you may want to agree a hand signal to let them know that you are doing OK. This can be a simple “thumbs up”.

One advantage of the coping signal is that if you’re prone to freezing, your lack of reaction will alert your dentist to the fact that something is wrong (if you’re prone to compliance and you’re worried about giving a thumbs up signal as an automated response, have a read of our Loss of Control page).

Another option is to use the hand signals used by scuba divers:

“I’m OK” – A circle is made with thumb and forefinger, extending the remaining fingers if possible:

Everything is OK Signal

“Something is wrong” – An open hand with palm down and fingers apart is rocked back and forth on the axis of the forearm:

Something is wrong signal

Dental Sign Language

Dental Sign Language can be really useful if you have a specific concern, such as choking/drowning – the “Rinse/suction my mouth” signal is quite a handy one:

Dental Sign Language (Dentisign)

And for a bit of light relief, check out’s version of Dentisign:

Dental Buzziefied version of Dentisign

Related Pages

Loss of Control

Structured Time

The Dental Button


“Dive hand signal OK” by Peter Southwood is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Dive hand signal Not Right” by Peter Southwood is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Dentisign – the Dental Sign Language” by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The information on this page has been provided by Dental Fear Central. Last reviewed on December 4, 2018. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.