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Understanding & Alleviating Your Fear of the Dentist

It's time to face your fear of the dentist

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
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I tell them, ‘I am very smart, but I am not a mind reader, so we need to use our words and talk to each other.’
- Dr. Jill Lasky, pediatric dentist


If you have a fear of going to the dentist, you are not alone. In fact, according to a report from StatisticsStats.com, more than 75% of adults suffer from a dental-related anxiety or fear. However, many children also dread the dentist, which is a condition referred to as “dentophobia.” How, exactly, can you mentally prepare for an upcoming visit to the dentist? Continue on to find out.

Anxiety in Young Dental Patients

Harvard-trained and Los Angeles, California-based pediatric dentist Jill Lasky, who goes by “Dr. Jill,” has owned private dental practice, Lasky Pediatric Dental Group, with her husband for the past 20 years. Because pediatric dentistry plays such an important role in shaping a child’s attitude toward overall dental health, Dr. Jill’s approach to treatment involves listening to her young patients’ fears and concerns – even before they hop into the dental chair. Then, she is able to adapt her treatment plan to ensure the child feels both comfortable and safe while in her care.

So, how does Dr. Jill identify dental-driven anxiety in her patients? “Children are usually pretty transparent when it comes to their fear of going to the dentist,” explains Dr. Jill. “They cry or get upset about going to their appointment. They may also (obviously) brush their teeth 20 times the day before their appointment to make sure they don’t have a cavity.”

To assist, Dr. Jill says that she always gains her patient’s trust, from the start. And, she says that 99% of the time, dental anxiety is about a loss of control over what is happening to a very personal part of the body: the oral cavity. 

“This is a place where we first explore the world – babies put everything in their mouths to discover. Our mouths nourish our bodies and express our most intimate emotions,” Dr. Jill shares. “Laying back in a dental chair is a very vulnerable position to be in.”

Communicating About a Child’s Dental Anxiety

For her fearful patients age 7 and up, Dr. Jill encourages open communication. “I tell them, ‘I am very smart, but I am not a mind reader, so we need to use our words and talk to each other.’ I make sure they know I will never surprise them, and they can raise their hand and I will always stop. They need to feel like they are a part of the dental experience; they need some control.”

Some examples of Dr. Jill’s regular encounters include:

• Discomfort with bright lights: Offer patients sunglasses and a lower-light setting.

• Fear of pain: Never just entering the child’s mouth with instruments, but requesting “show, do, tell” hand motions to maintain open communication.

• Fear of a cavity: Ask a lot of questions and be transparent about what is happening – or is going to happen at the next visit – in age-appropriate terms.

Furthermore, Dr. Jill focuses on building trust and ensuring parents feel safe and comfortable, too. “Kids pick up on their parents’ anxiety.” In addition, as a parent, try not to discuss the dental visit too far in advance with your child. “It only increases anxiety,” she says. “Keep it light and not such a big deal.”

Adults & Dental Anxiety

Dr. John Minichetti is an Englewood, New Jersey-based general dentist who has been treating adult patients with anxiety and dental phobias for more than 25 years. In fact, as the director at The Center for Implants and Aesthetics at Englewood Dental, Dr. Minichetti is known locally as a leading dentist for patients who seek to relax through their dental treatment.

Like Dr. Jill, Dr. Minichetti is also a proponent of open communication surrounding patient fears, as this aids in developing a personal relationship. “It really helps them feel more comfortable and connected,” he says. “Ideally, they should share any anxieties in advance of their visit; that way, we can customize their treatment plan for them.” 

Moreover, for those putting off critical dental work, Dr. Minichetti suggests a simple phone call to his staff to chat about any fears. “It also helps to speak to loved ones about their fears so they can have a support-person join them for their visit,” he offers. “Sometimes, a little extra support can go a long way.”

Natural Remedies for Dental Anxiety

Leading up to your next dental appointment, Dr. Minichetti says there are a few exercises and natural remedies that might help calm your fears:

• Deep breathing exercises: This practice can help reduce anxiety and provide a calmer mindset.

• Essential oils: Put a drop of lavender or orange essential oil on your neck or temples to both lift your spirits and calm you down.

• Herbal medications: Take a supplement, such as passionflower extract, to ease your mind a bit

And, if you are too anxious to agree to sedation during your next, extensive dental procedure, Dr. Minichetti offers a solution. “We can schedule shorter, easier visits, with frequent breaks,” he says.

Crafting a Comfortable Patient Experience

Children and adults, alike, can benefit from waiting rooms designed with comfort and calmness in mind. For example, Dr. Jill’s waiting room is arranged to feel like a family room. “We designed it this way so it looks warm, comforting, and familiar to the kids,” she shares. “We are not trying to hide anything scary behind characters painted on the walls or big TV screens. Instead, there are cozy couches, green house plants, a children-size table where kids can color and lots of books are available to read as they await their appointment. The homey 'Pottery Barn' setting helps relieve anxiety. It feels familiar and safe.”

For Dr. Minichetti, it’s all about creating a socially friendly and welcoming office environment. “There’s nothing like a good laugh to calm your nerves!” he exclaims. “I specifically hire staff members that are personable and able to make patients feel at ease – because dental anxiety is a very common thing.”  


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Understanding & Alleviating Your Fear of the Dentist

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