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Helping Patients With Dental Anxiety

16 Jun 2023

4 min read

By Dr. Azim Malik

Specialist Periodontist and Implant Surgeon


The key to helping anxious patients feel comfortable is making them feel at home.

The mouth is one of the most sensitive areas in the body.

What causes dental anxiety?

What patients are really looking for is to make sure they don't feel pain.

When we're ready to perform the treatment, I will numb the patient up.

And I will say: "You will feel pressure but you shouldn't feel any pain.

"I'm going to check you're numb."

This way, they know I've checked they're numb… and they know they're numb.

Now they feel more comfortable.

Specialist dentist for nervous patients

I take a sharp probe and I tell them I'm going stick it in their gum.

I know they won't feel anything.

I ask them if they feel anything and they reply, "no".

Patients often get confused between pressure and pain so I ask them: "Is it sharp? Or is it pressure?"

They will almost always say pressure.

So I say: "Perfect. That's absolutely normal. I'd be worried if you didn't feel pressure. Now we're ready to carry on."

A lot of people's worst fear is the anaesthetic's not going to work and that, for example, they will feel drilling.

That's why this is all so important.


I will always talk softly to patients during an examination.

So I wouldn't see a patient and straight away say, "open your mouth", and then abruptly open their mouth.

Instead, of course, I will open their mouth very gently.

Talking and acting like this helps patients to feel calm and relaxed.

It's almost as if they're having a mouth massage.

I stress to the patient they're in control.

Effective ways to treat patients with dental anxiety

One of the reasons patients don't like visiting the dentist is because they feel out of control.

In this situation, they can become anxious and start to panic.

That's the psychology of it.

I say to the patient: "If at any point you want me to stop, raise your left hand. If you want to talk to me, please raise your left hand. If you just want to stop and listen to the music for a minute, raise your left hand."

This way, patients feel they're in complete control of the situation and they can stop me immediately at any point in time.

What instructions can be given to a patient who is anxious prior to having a local anaesthetic?

With the majority of patients, it's important to explain what you're going to be doing.

I will always talk in layperson's terms.

Some nervous patients will tell me they don't want to hear all the details of what I'm about to do.

And that's obviously fine too.

Others will tell me they want to hear every fine detail.

It is, of course, whatever works best for you, the patient.

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