How to Overcome Dental Anxiety: Tips from Worcester, MA Dentists

Visiting the dentist may not be the most exciting thing on your to-do list, but some people may also be anxious about the idea. Dental anxiety is common, but thankfully it can be managed. Avoiding the dentist can cause your dental and overall health to suffer tremendously. This article will provide helpful tips and information on overcoming dental anxiety.

What is Dental Anxiety

How to Overcome Dental Anxity

Dental anxiety is often described as the stress or fear one may feel in connection with a dental environment. This can lead to people delaying or avoiding necessary dental treatment. Fortunately, there is no need to fear, the right caring dental team can make sure you are comfortable and at ease throughout your entire dental appointment.

Statistics on Dental Anxiety in Worcester, MA

  • Dental anxiety can impact individuals across the globe. In the United States alone, 50 to 80% of adults experience some degree of dental anxiety, ranging from mild to severe, according to research.
  • The study found that greater than 20% of people with dental anxiety do not see a dentist regularly.
  • Approximately 9 to 15% of patients with dental anxiety completely avoid dental care, according to the same research.
  • Dental anxiety and avoidance of care often results in a greater need for more extensive treatment.

Addressing Oral Health Disparities in Worcester

Black Communities

​​African American children and adults experience evident disparities in oral health access and affordability. This has manifested itself in black communities experiencing higher rates of tooth decay and tooth loss than white non-Hispanic counterparts.

Latin Communities

The Latinx community also experiences large disparities in oral health. Approximately 1 in 5 Latinos do not visit the dentist, which results in increased rates of dental issues. Language barriers also contribute to these disparities.

People with Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities often face many challenges related to oral hygiene for various reasons. One study found that a high occurrence of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities (DID) had periodontitis, tooth decay, tooth malalignment, and tooth fractures. Certain dental clinics in Worcester specialize in treating people with disabilities.


Veterans make up 7% of the population living in Worcester County. Veterans are at an increased risk of experiencing oral health issues, particularly during active service. Not to mention, there are only 4 Veterans Administration (VA) centers in Massachusetts that offer dental services, making accessibility challenging.

The Uninsured and Underinsured

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, greater than 6,000 residents in Worcester are uninsured. Lack of insurance can make dental care more challenging to afford for some individuals and can lead to poorer oral and systemic health outcomes. Further, for those with certain insurances, not all essential procedures may be covered which can make treatment options limiting for some people.

Homeless Population

Individuals experiencing homelessness face many challenges when it comes to oral health. According to a national survey, 60.4% of adults experiencing poverty have periodontal disease. In addition, they often experience pain, tooth loss, and unhealthy diets. Poor oral health and lower self-esteem over one’s smile can impact job and education opportunities and make access to oral care even harder.

Dental Anxiety Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of dental anxiety include:

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Feeling of panic or the need to cry.
  • Chills.
  • Excessive sweat.
  • Trembling.
  • Trouble sleeping the night prior to a dental appointment.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Mood or temper changes.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Excessive worrying.
  • Nausea.

Causes of Dental Anxiety

Previous traumatic dental experience

Past traumatic dental experiences can contribute to dental anxiety. When individuals have had a previous negative experience, it can tend to impact how they view future experiences. It is important to inform your dental professionals of any fears you may have for proper management so that you can continue to improve your oral health.

Fear of loss of control

It can be easy to feel like you have no control in a dental setting. This unsettling feeling can contribute to dental anxiety. Speaking with your dentist before your appointment can help minimize this discomfort.

Embarrassment or Shame

Some individuals may be concerned with showing their smile and oral health to dental professionals and people in general. They may be self-conscious about damaged or missing teeth, possible oral odor, or other conditions. However, dentists are professionals trained to combat any oral issue you may be facing and will reassure you that there is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed.

Fear of pain

Most people dread pain, and it’s a common misconception that one will experience pain from dental procedures. No need to fear, as most dental procedures are actually painless. Your dental professionals will provide you with all that is necessary to help you experience a comfortable dental appointment.

Injections fear

Fear of needles and injections may keep some from visiting the dentist. Luckily, there are many solutions to help people who are afraid of injections. For instance, having a conversation with your dentist, anxiety premedication, laser dentistry, laughing gas, and dental sedation.

Fear of enclosed spaces

Being in a dental environment may trigger feelings of fear due to the proximity to staff and tools. It may be uncomfortable to have someone insert instruments into the mouth. Inform your dentist if you experience these feelings so that they can best help make you comfortable.

Trust issues

Some individuals may have a fear of trusting individuals such as the dentist, perhaps due to bad past experiences. Rest assured, most dental professionals are honest and looking out for your best interest.

Side effects of anesthesia

Some patients may fear experiencing side effects of dental anesthesia. Although it is possible to experience symptoms like nausea, numbness, and dizziness, this is often rare and quickly fleeting.

Family history

A family member may have experienced a bad dental visit in the past and told you about it. Hearing traumatic experiences from loved ones is a very common cause of dental anxiety.

Who is at risk for dental anxiety

In the United States, approximately 36% of individuals experience dental anxiety. In general, people of all ages and any background can experience dental anxiety. However, some factors such as gender may play a role in risk for experiencing dental anxiety. It is reported that fear of dentists is more common in females than in males.

Dental Anxiety Management Tips from a Worcester Dentist

Choose the Right Dentist

Choosing the right dentist can make a huge difference in how you perceive everything related to dentistry. Look for a dentist who specializes in treating patients with anxiety and ask friends or family if they have any recommendations. Once you find a dentist, be sure to express your feelings and ask any questions you may have to help put your mind at ease. Our caring team at Gentle Dental will make you feel right at home.

Discuss your Concerns and Fears

Sharing your concerns and fears can make a world of difference when it comes to relieving stress and anxiety. Your dental professionals will be better able to address all your needs once they know how you are feeling. They can offer coping strategies and help make your visit as comfortable as possible.

Agree on a Signal to Indicate Discomfort

Prior to your exam, inform your dentist of any concerns or questions you may have. Agree on a specific signal, such as a hand signal to use when you need to take a break or are feeling uncomfortable.

Consider Sedation Options

Sedation is commonly used in dentistry to help with certain dental procedures. Laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide, is a mild sedative that is fast acting and used to help patients relax during treatment. Another type of sedation used in dentistry for relaxation is conscious sedation, which is administered intravenously and allows patients to be conscious and respond to verbal prompts. In some instances, your dentist may recommend general anesthesia, in which patients are relaxed into a sleeping state and are unable to respond to verbal prompts.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Deep Breathing

Performing breathing exercises, including counting your breaths, and inhaling and exhaling slowly can help you relax throughout your dental appointment.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Focusing on relaxing your muscles, starting with one body part at a time, can help you relieve stress. This can help take your mind off the dental procedures.

Distract Yourself

Distractions can help put you at ease regarding your dental visit. Distraction methods can range from wearing headphones to block out noise, thinking about a relaxing place like the beach, or squeezing an object like a stress ball.

Consider Acupuncture

Some researchers have reported the tremendous success of acupuncture used in dentistry to help alleviate stress and alter how one perceives pain signals. Ask your dental professional if they offer acupuncture services.

When should you consult with the dentist?

If dental anxiety is getting in the way of you making your regular dental appointments and following the recommended treatment plans, it is important to consult with your dentist right away. Avoiding dental treatments can increase your risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and even systemic health issues, as oral health is a window to overall health.


Managing your dental anxiety is key to having a healthy smile. Avoiding dental care can lead to a greater need for treatment, and oral and overall health issues. Not to mention, it can be extremely more costly in the long run. It is essential to speak with your dentist about your concerns so that they can help you manage and overcome dental anxiety.