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  • Writer's pictureDr Donna Hill

How to relax at the dentist

Scared of going to the dentist?

Being scared of the dentist is incredibly common with approximately 13-24% of people feeling anxious or scared each time they visit their dentist. For a smaller number of people this anxiety goes further and becomes a disabling phobia, this can lead to poor oral hygiene if regular visits to the dentist aren't kept up-to-date.

In this blog post our Barnstaple dentist, Dr Donna Hill takes a look at some of the more common problems and suggests ways to relax at the dentist.

What is dental anxiety?

The first thing to say that some level of anxiety about going to the dentist is extremely common, after all, not many people actually enjoy visiting!

So it's important to understand that a small level of anxiety is quite normal. Your dentist will expect this and be quite prepared to help and put you at ease and rest at every stage of your journey.

Dental anxiety can, in some small examples, turn into something more serious which is a phobia. A dental phobia becomes a debilitating condition where the person is completely unable to go to the dentist at all.

Dental anxiety medication

Most dentists are quite happy to help you with any dental anxiety by prescribing medication, this is often in the form of a mild sedative which can help you relax prior to the treatment. Oral sedation given in this way can help you stay calm during your visit to the dentist.

Can you be put to sleep at the dentist?

Some people find that oral sedation and the dental anxiety medication are not quite enough and require a deeper level of relaxation. Dental sedation helps you drift off into a quiet world of your own, often called ‘Twilight’ or ‘Sleep’ dentistry.

What is sedation at the dentist?

Dental Sedation normally comes in 2 forms, RA and IV

RA Sedation Explained

RA Sedation, often called Happy Gas, or Happy Air is a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen which is adjusted to suit you. Different people need a different mix of these gases to achieve a feeling of being warm, cosy and far-away. We use a small soft sterile nosepiece for you to breathe through.

RA sedation allows you to return to work or home afterwards.

How quickly will you recover from RA Sedation?

Very quickly. After treatment you will usually be recovered within 2-3 minutes and can return to the waiting room. You will usually be able to leave the practice within 10 minutes. We do advise against driving for 30-60 minutes but you can return to your usual activities such as home, work or school.

How safe is RA sedation?

Very safe. We use it for children and adults from 5 to 95 so long as they are able to understand how it works and how they will feel. Since you are able to speak to the dentist, if at any time you feel the happy air mixture is a bit too strong, we can quickly turn it down and within a few seconds you will feel very relaxed again.

IV Sedation Explained

IV sedation needs a small injection in the back of the hand or in the crook (front) of your elbow. If you hate the needle bit, it is possible to use the happy air first to relax you and reduce sensations and then the injection is quickly over without you minding a bit. Many people find this a great way to do it.

I.V. sedation does require you to be driven home by a reliable adult who does need to stay with you afterwards.

With IV sedation ONLY, you need a reliable adult to drive you home and stay with you, often over night. You cannot drive, cook, operate machinery or be responsible for children.

Overcoming dental anxiety- How to relax at the dentist

Often this involves overcoming your fears one small step at a time.

When you first start thinking you need to come to the dentist, or that you need some form of treatment it can often seem like a huge mountain to climb. But we want to assure you that the journey of 1000 steps always starts with a first step. And it's just like the joke:

Q: "How do you eat an elephant?"

A: "One piece at a time"

Taking things in small steps in bite-size chunks breaks the whole process down and make things easier.

Harvard University asked a group of people how they overcame their dental anxiety…You may find some of these useful.

“I listen with a headset to laugh-aloud funny books or podcasts when I am in the waiting room and in the dental chair. I try not to get to the appointment too early, as sitting in the waiting room can increase my anxiety. And while waiting, I practice relaxation breathing.” — Suzanne “I bring my iPod and play nice soothing music, or a book on MP3.” — Heather
“Have the dentist explain everything before doing it. Make the patient become the assistant, such as asking him or her to ‘hand me this or that,’ etc. Make sure there is a nice scent in the treatment room, and listen to catchy, familiar, calming music–something with a subliminal connection — a song everyone knows the words to. It would be nice if the dentist put something fascinating to look at on the ceiling.” — Nancy
“My dentist has televisions situated on the ceiling of his office so that when he leans his patients back in the chair, they are able to watch television. This serves as a decent distraction from the fact that you are in the dentist office and has manged to alleviate tensions associated with dental visits for my whole family.” — Blaine


The final point to mention is that whenever you visit our dental practice in North Devon you will always be kept in full control of the entire process.

We will agree a stop signal with you, this means you can halt the treatment at any point to take a breather or a rest, this keeps you in full and complete control.

All treatments will be explained in full prior to going ahead, if you so desire, this gives you an opportunity to discuss your concerns before any treatment commences. For any patients who are truly phobic of the dentist please ask us about dental sedation.

Image Credit:

This entry was posted in Dental anxiety and tagged dental anxiety, dental fear, dental phobia, intravenous sedation, IV Sedation, Oral sedation, RA Sedation, relative analgesia on 7th May, 2017 by Dr Donna Hill.



Dr Donna Hill

After qualifying in 1992 in Birmingham, Donna moved to Cornwall then helped to set up Trinity Dental Centre in 2000, with the aim of providing kind and gentle dental care. Donna's interest is in the cosmetic field and she frequently updates her knowledge in this area. Outside of work she likes to read and to cook. She is married to Rodney and they have two sons. View all posts by Dr Donna Hill .

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