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How to overcome bad past experiences at the dentist

dentist examining teeth of female patient

Getting past your anxiety about going to the dentist

Research shows that between 5 and 8% of people avoid dentists out of fear. In fact, up to 20% of people have enough anxiety to put off a visit to the dentist until absolutely necessary.

Many people with anxiety about dental treatment have had previous bad experiences. But, oral hygiene is an integral part of your general health. Gum disease can spread through the bloodstream and cavities left untreated will get worse — requiring more serious treatment later.

The Point Dental is committed to helping patients overcome anxiety by building trust and using techniques designed to reduce stress.

How do dental phobia and anxiety affect us?

man touching his jaw and looking uncomfortable due to a toothache

As with any traumatic experience from our past, fear affects our ability to make a decision:

  • We are not sure whether a new dentist will understand our concerns, making us hesitant to make an appointment.
  • We don’t know if we can trust a new dentist to manage our pain during treatment.
  • Our anxiety from past bad experiences at the dentist keeps us from exploring treatment methods aimed at reducing stress.

Despite our bad past experiences and current anxiety, there are some practical ways to overcome these feelings. They can help us take the step of making a dentist appointment.

Distraction therapy

Distraction therapy takes your attention away from the dentist and the procedure and centres it on something else. A simple form of distraction therapy is listening to music using headphones. Adding an eye mask can help keep your mind on the music and not on the dentist in front of you.

Some dentists offer distraction therapy by putting television screens on the roof of the consultation room. When you are leaning back in the chair, your attention automatically turns to the screen.

Relaxation techniques

Deep breathing is a relaxation technique used in many stressful situations. The process of holding your breath and then exhaling slowly and deliberately has the effect of slowing your heart rate and relaxing your muscles.

Another option is progressive muscle relaxation. This is done by tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups one after the other. The concentration and deliberate actions tend to help you relax.

Coping strategies

Coping strategies help you to deal with stressful situations, even if the root cause is not resolved. For example, you might develop a signal with your dentist. Every time you raise your arm, they could stop work for a short break. This simple act can give you a sense of control and the ability to pause when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Cognitive therapy

a board detailing the elements of cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy is a process designed to progressively ease your anxiety about a stressful situation. For example, a psychologist may introduce you to dental treatments in a step by step manner.

They may first show you a syringe until you are comfortable with that experience, before moving to the next level. After the cognitive therapy is complete, your sense of anxiety about receiving an injection should be significantly lowered.

Anti-anxiety medication

Valium is an anti-anxiety medication that helps relax a person in stressful situations. It can be used in conjunction with other therapies. For example, you could also listen to music and have an eye mask in place so that you are both relaxed and distracted from the dental procedure.


Penthrox inhalation sedation is a self-administered anxiety treatment. It allows you control over the sedative and thus over the relief that you experience.

Intravenous sedation keeps you between sleep and awake states. You remain fully conscious, but do not feel any pain or discomfort.


A general anaesthetic for dental treatment is also known as sleep dentistry. This procedure can only be administered by a specialist anaesthetist and is not available for outpatients at most dental clinics.

Sleep dentistry is suitable for patients whose anxiety about dental procedures remains high even after other mitigation measures have been tried. It is also ideal for young children or people who have lengthy treatments to be completed in one session.

Contact The Point Dental

One of the best ways to ease dental anxiety is to have a good rapport with your dentist. Feeling the freedom to ask anything and to express your feelings of anxiety can go along way to building trust with your dentist.

Reach out to The Point Dental to make your first appointment. We work with you to relieve your anxiety and keep your mouth and teeth healthy.