Stop Signals

DFC Symbol
Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on January 17, 2021

Being able to let your dentist (or hygienist) know that you need a break or you want them to stop is absolutely essential. This allows you to build trust and gives you control over the situation:

Nowadays, most dentists will offer you a stop (or rest) signal without having to ask for it – especially if you’re anxious. Having a signal to show that you’re doing OK is also a great idea. There’s even a dental sign language!

Stop (or Rest) Signals

The most common way of showing that you need a rest or that you’re uncomfortable is raising a hand or arm. Ask your dentist which side arm is in their field of vision.

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

You may have trouble giving the stop signal because you freeze or you don’t want to be a bother. Or you may have had experiences in the past with a dentist not stopping despite you being in obvious distress. If that’s the case, you may like to visit our lack of control page for more ideas. Some options include:

  • Together with your dentist, practice giving the stop signal (say, to the count of 10) until you feel able to do so
  • Using a button clicker
  • Lightly putting your hand around your nurse’s wrist and squeezing if you need your dentist to stop – your nurse can then alert them
  • Scheduled rest breaks

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 on 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 may alert your dentist to the fact that something is wrong.

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

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“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.