Dental Anxiety: A Message from Dr. Kelly O’Hara

A Message from Dr. Kelly O’Hara to
Patients with Dental Anxiety or Phobia

Dear patients,

Dental anxiety or dental phobia affects nearly one in five adults. I have family members who have dental anxiety, and I see it every day in our dental practice. If there’s one thing I want to tell all anxious patients, it is that you are not alone. Please do not feel embarrassed with us. Like myself, dentists at our practice are compassionate, empathetic and committed to taking care of anxious patients.

Dr. Kelly helping patient with dental anxiety

Patients with dental anxiety are often so fearful that they delay dental treatment for years. Their oral hygiene suffers as a result, leading to gum disease, tooth infection, and abscesses, or cavities. Through research, we now know that untreated inflammation in the mouth spreads throughout the body. Inflammation leaves patients more susceptible to several health issues. These include heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney disease, and low birth-weight babies in pregnant patients, among other things. It is important to address your oral and overall health by seeing a dentist regularly.

Read more on why patients develop dental anxiety.


Anxious patients may differ in the degree of their anxiety, as well as what triggers anxiety. I have found it most helpful to talk to patients beforehand about treatment, reducing fears of the unknown. I try to develop a custom plan with my patients to help manage anxiety.

Sometimes anxious patients are embarrassed by their anxiety or have been told things in the past like “don’t worry,” “stay calm,” or “you will be just fine.” This causes patients to feel even more embarrassed about their condition. Instead, seek out a dentist who listens to your concerns and offers a variety of options to help you manage your concerns.

Anxiety Triggers

Negative past experiences with dental offices often trigger anxiety in patients. Triggers can be simple, like the sounds and smell inside a dental office, or from other things like getting numb, having a strong gag reflex, fearing instruments in the mouth, or fearing a general lack of control.  Some patients aren’t sure what causes their anxiety. Others have a combination of things that trigger their fears. Below are some of the things that Lincoln Family Dentistry offers to help manage your worries.

Minimally-Invasive Instruments

If you fear having dental instruments placed in your mouth, sometimes your gag reflex will react. Sometimes this can make it difficult to breathe. At our office, we use a device called an Isolite that protects your tongue to prevent and control your gag reflex.

dental anxiety team

Caring Dental Team

If you have past experiences with unsympathetic dentists, you may fear they will ignore your concerns. I am a mother of 4, and I was a high school teacher before becoming a dentist. I’ve carried my passion for teaching into dentistry. I will explain everything we do beforehand in an approachable way. I find that many patients understand visuals well, so I prefer to use an iPad with pictures to explain treatments. Like students, patients with concerns often need a non-traditional approach or extra time to complete treatment. Find a dentist who hears to your concerns and who helps you manage them, and you can overcome your anxiety.

Intuitive Numbing Techniques

Many anxious patients worry about getting numb for a procedure. I use a topical anesthetic to comfort the area first, before administering anesthesia slowly and comfortably. We also have excellent distraction techniques, like massaging another area of your mouth while we administer anesthesia to minimize the pressure.

Comforting Environment and Patient Choices

Many patients say that being in a comfortable atmosphere surrounded by the caring people in our office makes them more at ease than they have felt with prior dental treatment.  We offer a blanket and pillow, headphones and television. We also offer several breaks to help you feel comfortable. Ultimately, we want you to be in control of your dental treatment. We want to ensure your comfort while you are in our office.  From the moment you walk into our office and meet our friendly front desk team to the moment you leave with a care package and post-care instructions, we’ll take good care of you.  Your comfort is our number one priority.

dental anxiety free patient

Sleep Dentistry

Some patients still find they need extra help feeling comfortable the day of treatment and those patients elect to do sleep dentistry. This is an excellent option for most anxious patients. Click here to find out more about sleep dentistry.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our passion for treating anxious patients. Again, please do not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing your dental anxiety with us. We value having the discussion and finding ways to help you work through your concerns. After all, it’s most satisfying to see a patient gradually overcome their anxiety, only to soon become empowered and confident with a healthy mouth!

Kelly O’Hara, DDS

Check out the “What is Sedation Dentistry” video.

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