Do You Dread the Dentist?

These in-office techniques and treatments can ease your anxiety.

Medically Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS on May 21, 2015
3 min read

Nearly 1 in 25 of us is dental-phobic. But have you heard about the latest ways to calm those fears? One of these methods could give you just the dose of courage you need.

"A good, trusted dentist who puts you at ease will never go out of fashion," says Alexandre DaSilva, DDS, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Dental School. "But technology can also help you relax, decrease anxiety, and decrease pain."

Pain-free injections. If you fear needles, an anesthetic gel, spray, or rinse can numb the area before you get a shot. (These anesthetics can also relieve a generally oversensitive mouth.) Studies show that the speed of injections, not the needle, can make a shot hurt at the dentist. Some dentists now use a machine, known as The Wand, to deliver a slow, steady injection. Many patients say they have less pain this way.

Spa-like experience. Some dentists try to take you to another place. Many practices now offer wraparound virtual reality headsets that absorb you in movies, games, or music videos while the dentist works.

"Virtual reality can help take you out of the situation," DaSilva says. "You also may remember less about the experience," he adds, which means it might be easier to go back the next time.

Some dentists use aromatherapy and sound machines in their offices, too. Studies show that orange and lavender fragrances can calm anxiety and stress at the dentist. Instead of the sound of drills and the metallic smell of tools, you could hear a breeze blowing over a field of fragrant lavender.

Total relaxation. Many dentists offer nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas." You inhale the gas through your nose during the entire procedure. You're back to normal shortly afterward and can drive yourself home.

For something stronger, dentists might prescribe a sedative medicine that you take the night before your appointment, then again an hour or so beforehand.

"Patients sleep well the night before and come into the appointment in a more relaxed state," says Bob Range, DDS, an assistant clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry.

Dentists can also offer IV sedation. You're awake during the procedure, but you're extremely relaxed. Your eyes may close, and you might not remember much, but you can respond to your dentist's questions and requests.

A lesser-known form of deep relaxation is hypnosis dentistry. Hypnosis can get rid of your anxiety and perhaps the need for anesthesia.

"Most of my patients are able to do it without any injectable anesthesia," says Ashley A. Goodman, DDS, who is board-certified in hypnosis. "If you see someone becoming uncomfortable, you can reinforce the hypnosis or you can always give them anesthesia."

Some dentists let you hold a button that can stop whatever machine the dentist is using.

"Psychologically there may be some advantage to giving a patient a button that they can press," Range says. "It's playing off the same concept as telling the patient to raise a hand if they want the dentist to stop."

Some dentists say their patients love to hold the button but that few of them press it.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."