Therapy Can Help Ease Dental Fears and Anxieties

Therapy Can Help Ease Dental Fears and Anxieties

When you’re in the grip of a serious fear like going to the dentist, needles, or dental procedures, it’s hard to feel anything but panic or terror. Dental fears are fairly common, from a little to a lot, in the U.S. That’s why dental sedation is such a popular and effective option.

But if you’re tired of being afraid or if dental sedation isn’t always enough, you may have another option. Studies around the world have shown that therapy is one of the most effective options for helping patients with dental fears, phobias, and anxiety.

Note: Work with a licensed mental health professional and your primary physician to find the therapeutic option that’s best for you. Check with your health insurance provider to find out is covered by insurance.

Gradual Exposure Therapy

Gradual Exposure TherapyPsychologists have found that one effective therapeutic treatment for dental phobias and fears is exposure therapy. Slowly and over time, patients are exposed to the thing they fear. It might be needles or simply opening your mouth for the procedure. With the help of a mental health professional, you rehearse the stages of what you fear, gradually working up to the real thing.

Example: You’re terrified of needles and can’t stand the idea of being injected. Through therapy, you would be exposed to the situation, without the real needle, until you become comfortable enough to sit in the dental chair and be injected.

During this process, patients are taught to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Instead of thinking, “I can’t do this!” you might think “This is good for my health.” Patients are also taught deep breathing skills, how to relax your muscles, and other coping mechanisms. Patients who have successful treatments may still be nervous but they can sit through the dental procedure they were afraid of.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral TherapyCognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also known as “talk therapy.” If you’re imagining laying on a couch, talking about your childhood or feelings, that’s only partly true. You’re not required to lie down on a couch, but you do talk about what you’re thinking and feeling. CBT was developed based on the belief that most of our psychological problems are based on dysfunctional patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

CBT helps you identify those “automatic” thoughts you have about your fear of the dentist and break the pattern. Why do you feel the way you do? What are you thinking that makes you feel afraid? Through CBT, you talk through those fears to figure out what triggers the thoughts. Then, it’s time to figure out where the thought came from. It might be based on a past experience or something you believed when you were young that stuck with you.

How Well Does Therapy Work?

How Well Does Therapy Work?A recent German study found that CBT therapy gave patients the courage to go to the dentist. Not all fears or anxieties went away completely, but they were reduced enough so that the patients could get the dental care they needed.

In 2016, a British study published in the British Dental Journal, performed similar research. At the end, 79 percent of the patients in the study were able to go to the dentist after CBT sessions. Another six percent could go but still needed dental sedation.

Ultimately, therapy isn’t always a complete cure. Some patients’ fears are so severe that they can only be reduced, not eliminated. Dental sedation remains an option for those patients. But if the end result is that more people get the dental care they need to stay healthy, then therapy is a success.


The reasons patients fear the dentist are wide and varied. Even the most common, like being afraid of needles, vary in severity from patient to patient. No single treatment option will work for everyone, but therapy may be great for most fearful patients.

If you’re able to go to the dentist, even through your fear, talk to your dentists in Phoenix and Mesa about your sedation options. In the meantime, if therapy is an option for you, talk to your doctor and dentist to find the right mental health professional for you. You don’t have to live in fear, and you don’t have to deal with it on your own.