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Aromatherapy: An option for dental fear and anxiety

July 10, 2023
Have you tried aromatherapy in your dental office? It's an alternative and complementary therapy that can benefit anxious patients.

Aromatherapy originated in both Africa and Asia and has been used medicinally and for embalming and mummification, as well as in aromatic formulations, for more than three millennia. Contemporary use of aromatherapy began with French chemists studying the medicinal properties of essential oils, and they used them to treat soldiers’ battle wounds and those suffering from gangrene in World War II.1 Since the 1980s, aromatherapy has been used as part of the growing fields of mind-body health and psychoneuroimmunology to alleviate both emotional and mental stress.2,3

Aromatherapy is defined as the use of fragrant essential oils that are extracted from plants, herbs, flowers, grasses, roots, and trees to activate olfactory nerve cells and induce relaxation.2 It is also integral in activating the limbic system and parasympathetic stimulation of the autonomic nervous system, which helps patients lessen anxiety and improve their mood.4 Aromatherapy is heralded as an alternative and complementary therapy with therapeutic benefit.

Aromatics can be dispensed in the following ways:

  • Diffusers with a combination of essential oils and water
  • Atomizer, spray bottle, or spritzer with water and essential oils
  • In potpourri as an additive to and in unscented flower mix or potpourri that has lost its scent
  • With unscented candles, adding the essential oil to the melted wax (top of the candle)

They can also be delivered through direct application via creams, lotions, massage or body oils, direct inhalation from a bottle, from a tissue or cotton-ball, from the palm of the hand, or from portable inhaler tubes.5

Aromatherapy and dental anxiety

Research indicates there may be some benefit from aromatherapy to decrease dental fear and anxiety (DFA). Age and gender are the most common factors of DFA, as well as the feelings and experiences of the parent from past dental visits, including their experiences as a child.

You might also be interested in: Ancient remedies: Some healing secrets for dental pain have withstood the test of time

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis, some patients were reluctant to resume recare and maintenance visits as well as schedule needed procedures. Offering an aromatic experience may provide those patients a level of comfort to ease DFA.

Research shows that utilizing lavender and rose oil has been beneficial in reducing anxiety during dental appointments for general and orthodontic practices, in particular with the use of candles and diffusers. Past studies have included the completion of the modified dental anxiety scale as well as pre and post vital signs completed on study participants6,7 to monitor the effects of aromatics at the dental visit. Aromatherapy promotes relaxation as well as decreases appointment anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and worry.

Research indicates the following oils provide the most beneficial olfactory and parasympathetic stimulus: lavender, rose, orange, and peppermint. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), other oils including chamomile, geranium, sage, and ylang ylang were also noted to be beneficial in the dental environment.

Dental office use and practicality

Using aromatherapy in patient check-in and waiting areas, as well as in operatories, may provide a less stress-filled environment for the dental visit. While limited research has been done on large populations and patients with asthma or who are pregnant, aromatherapy continues to be a practical adjunct to the dental office. Additionally, it can serve as an adjunct to nitrous oxide sedation and local anesthesia.


  1. Lyth G. Aromatherapy-A Brief History. Accessed July 3, 2023. https://www.quinessence.com/blog/aromatherapy-brief-history
  2. Lis-Balchin M, Hart S. Studies on the Mode of Action of the Essential Oil of Lavender Phytother Res. 1999;13(6):540-542.
  3. Robins JL. The Science and Art of Aromatherapy. J Holist Nurs. 1999;17(1):5-17.
  4. Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett P. Aromas of Rosemary and Lavender Essential Oils Differentially Affect Cognition and Mood in Healthy Adults. Int J Neurosci. 2003;113(1):15-38. doi:10.1080/00207450390161903
  5. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Methods of Application. Accessed July 4, 2023. https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/methods-of-application/
  6. Murad M, Ingle, N, Assery M. Evaluating Factors Associated with Fear and Anxiety to Dental Treatment-A systematic Review. J Family Med Prim Care. 2020;30;9(9):4530-4535.
  7. Premkumar KS, Aafaque S, Sumalatha S, Narendran N. Effect of Aromatherapy on Dental Anxiety Among Orthodontic Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Cureus. 2019;2;11(8):e5306. doi:10.7759/cureus.5306.