Management of fear and anxiety in the dental clinic: a review

Aust Dent J. 2013 Dec;58(4):390-407; quiz 531. doi: 10.1111/adj.12118.


People who are highly anxious about undergoing dental treatment comprise approximately one in seven of the population and require careful and considerate management by dental practitioners. This paper presents a review of a number of non-pharmacological (behavioural and cognitive) techniques that can be used in the dental clinic or surgery in order to assist anxious individuals obtain needed dental care. Practical advice for managing anxious patients is provided and the evidence base for the various approaches is examined and summarized. The importance of firstly identifying dental fear and then understanding its aetiology, nature and associated components is stressed. Anxiety management techniques range from good communication and establishing rapport to the use of systematic desensitization and hypnosis. Some techniques require specialist training but many others could usefully be adopted for all dental patients, regardless of their known level of dental anxiety. It is concluded that successfully managing dentally fearful individuals is achievable for clinicians but requires a greater level of understanding, good communication and a phased treatment approach. There is an acceptable evidence base for several non-pharmacological anxiety management practices to help augment dental practitioners providing care to anxious or fearful children and adults.

Keywords: Dental anxiety; management; non-pharmacological; review; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Dental Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Dental Anxiety / prevention & control*
  • Dental Anxiety / psychology
  • Dental Care / psychology
  • Dental Clinics
  • Dentist-Patient Relations
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic