Overcoming feelings of nervousness or anxiety when treating patients?

This forum made possible through the generous support of SDN members, donors, and sponsors. Thank you.


Full Member
10+ Year Member
Oct 21, 2011
Reaction score
I am in my D1 year and haven't treated any patients, merely assisted. I find myself feeling nervous thinking about treating patients, directing them, knowing the answers to their questions, worrying about how they perceive me or my body language. The few times I've assisted and participated like taking blood pressure or assisting with some material preparations I get very nervous, my brow starts to sweat. This not something that happens in other situations. The responsibility of taking care of another human and needing them to see that I am a professional and know everything and have everything perfectly under control really rattles me. I have low self esteem. I am able to hide it but when things start to go wrong it really shows through, I have trouble keeping it together when things start to go wrong. I really feel fear of being "exposed" as incompetent somehow. I also look extremely young for 22 and my personality does not compensate for that all, if anything I am immature for my age in both personality and appearance. In short I have a lot of insecurity in my people skills and I am well aware of how important that is in dentistry, especially in practice where 90% of people go to the dentist who they "like" the most and is the most personable.

The fact that I have struggled quite a bit my first semester does not help this feeling. I have improved but I failed two of my first exams as part of the first block. I remediated them. Obviously I took a hit to my confidence from that. I put more time in and improved and did fine on the subsequent blocks. My handskills are pretty ****. I had to remediate multiple wax ups. First cast, terrible. First performance prep exam in the plastic tooth, terrible. These things way on me. I am trying to keep things in perspective, that things are for the most part over now for 2015 and I can refocus and reorganize for 2016.

I don't know how to fix my perspective and feel confident in myself going forward. All I can think of is to do well in the future so that I at least have the foundation of knowing I met the standards set forth. But for personal reasons I don't feel like I am able to dedicate myself in the same almost mindless fashion as others in my class seem to have dedicated themselves. Also my social life sucks in dental school, its mostly my fault but I feel pretty isolated from the rest of the class. I am sure that is one reason other students are able to dedicate themselves with more fervor, they have the social life to balance it out and make life enjoyable overall, not to mention study groups. Also I don't have any real upperclassmen mentors or practicing dentist mentors.

What do you think of my situation.

Members don't see this ad.
Last edited:
You will learn, and you will get used to it. Don't sweat it (literally).
  • Like
Reactions: 3 users
Members don't see this ad :)
don't be worry, believe me the moment you saw your first patient and finished treating him/her you gonna feel so confident you want to do D4 procedures for them :D
It seems like your hand skills are what's causing you to feel anxious. Do you practice enough? I failed my pre clinical stuff left and right my first quarter. Spent a whole lot of time after school just constantly practicing till my hands were numb and passed everything this quarter. I think if you get your hand skills up it will improve your confidence by the time you get in to clinic.
I do need to practice more. I didn't practice much, most of the projects I did 1-2 nights before ect. I plan on being more organized in 2016. I am not sure if its really the handskills that worry me, I worry about coming off disorganized or that I don't know what I am doing. Or that they can sense nervousness from me. Also I worry about how to handle more confrontational and difficult patients.
I was the same way. I never assisted before dental school, so as a D1 assisting D4s, I felt very nervous and anxious the whole time. I didn't know what I could and what I couldn't do, what the dental student needed, where I could place the suction without bothering the patient, etc.

And then the first time we looked in each others (our classmates) mouthes, I felt very awkward. Again, I wasn't sure how hard I could palpate, what the patient would find uncomfortable, etc. I felt like I would feel awkward in the mouth for my entire career, and it made me very unsure of myself. I was even nervous about making small talk with patients. To some people this comes naturally, where I have to force it a bit.

Please trust me that it passes. Our school puts us through a 2-week long "hygiene boot camp" at the end of our first year, where your confidence will grow with exposure. It's like being in a country where nobody speaks english, you are forced to adapt. It's the same with dentistry.

By the second year, we gave each other injections with no sense of insecurity or discomfort. And then by the time we saw our first operative patients (October 30th for us), there was nothing to be worried about. You sit them down, you chat with them and then once you get your start check, you know exactly what you're doing. By this point, you know all of the nerve blocks and have (hopefully) practiced them a lot with your classmates. Once you achieve profound local anesthesia and place the rubber dam or other means of isolation, your brain goes to autopilot. It's just like sim lab again.

Please trust me this passes. I was in your shoes about a year ago, and I got over it in just a few months.
  • Like
Reactions: 3 users