How to Deal With Dental Anxiety and Overcome Your Phobia

scared and anxious woman at the dentist

Do you struggle with dental anxiety? Do you often put off treatment just because you are afraid of going to the dentist? You are not alone. The truth is that dental providers see frightened patients every single day. Fear is a natural feeling in humans. When dental anxiety is severe, causing extreme fear can be classified as dental phobia.

Anxiety and dental phobia of children and adult patients by going to the dentist have been observed for years. This feeling affects many patients and oftentimes prevent them from getting necessary dental care treatments and regular check-ups 1.

People are often afraid of the dentist just because they imagine scary things when they are looking at the instruments at the office. Also, some patients have bad memories of a previous painful dental treatment by a dentist and in many cases, this keeps them from seeking help until it hurts to an unbearable degree.

How to cope with dental anxiety and what are the means of modern dentistry to deal with dental fear and pain? Here we will give you some tips and suggestion on how to reduce your anxiety and stress levels so you can finally get the smile that you have always wanted. Keep reading.

How to cope with dental anxiety?

close up of a dentist holding dental tools

If you are struggling with dental anxiety and phobia the tips below may help you reduce your fear so you can receive the dental care you need.

Talk to your dentist

When it comes to dental fear, one of the most important thing is communication between the dentist and the patient. Always be honest and express your concerns beforehand. This way the dental provider can better accommodate you and make you comfortable during your dental visits. If you know the cause of your fear tell the dentist exactly what you feel. When the dental provider is aware of your anxiety he/she can prepare things that will accommodate your needs in advance and make you more comfortable throughout your dental appointment.

There are so many options in dentistry and there is not a one size fits all answer but communicating your needs and expectations can often help ease your anxiety at the dentist. Don't be afraid to tell the dentist that you are worried. After that, you will definitely feel better. If you want a short break during dental procedures, it is quite normal to tell the dentist.

Figure out what makes you anxious

Is it from past experience, is it one specific thing going on recently that has you stressed or maybe it is the noises of the drill and other dental instruments? Whatever the case, make sure you inform your dentist about your concerns. When the dentist knows the specific reason for your dental phobia he/she will able to help you overcome it. Remember your dentist wants you to be comfortable and he/she wants to support you with what you need to achieve that comfort.

Do not go back to your childhood memories

frightened girl at the dentist office

Often the fear of the dentist is acquired in childhood by bad experiences with dentists 2. Today, dentistry is quite advanced, compared to decades ago. The fact that you had bad experiences at the dentist's chair in your childhood does not mean that any future dental visits will be so unpleasant. If you want to reduce your fears, do not go back to your bad childhood memories before your dental appointment. Fear may intensify the feeling of pain. Before your dentist visit, think about what will calm you down. You may also try some meditation techniques before your dental procedure or try to focus on breathing regularly and slowly during the treatment process. Paediatric dentistry has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, if you have a child make sure that the first dental visits are with a specialized kids dentist.

Be informed

Patients' fears and concerns often come from the unknown. That is why it is important to be informed. You should know what to expect. Ask your dentist to explain to you what he/she is going to do and what you are going to feel at every step of the process. When the provider tells you about the procedure that is going to be performed, show you how key parts of the dental work and then does the procedure then you will feel more in control and less anxious.

The least afraid are those patients who have informed themselves through communication with the dentist about their dental treatment. Talking to a dentist will increase your awareness of the course of dental procedures and the possibilities for reducing pain. Experienced health professionals know how to calm people with dental anxiety. They use non-verbal skills, observe the movements of the patient's body, his/her posture and uses techniques to calm the patient such as talking to him/her or making him/her answer certain questions in order to dissipate the patient's fears.

Use relaxation techniques

Dentists know very well that some people are nervous when they are in the dentist's chair. Anxious patients may have some kind of bad association with the sound of the drill or smell of the different substances. To overcome such fears you may want to have a relaxation technique such as slow deep breathing 3 when you are on a chair or while you are sitting in the waiting room, focusing your mind on something else that makes you happy or distracting yourself by listening to music or playing with a stress ball. Those techniques will take your mind away from what's being done in your mouth.

Visit the dentist more often

Dental procedures are not as uncomfortable as they used to be. Go to the dentist regularly, for example, every 6 months, and you will find that a dental visit is not so scary. The truth is that if you go to a dentist preventively, you will maintain better oral health and you will be able to solve your teeth problems at early stages.

Make an appointment with a therapist to treat anxiety

There are different levels of anxiety. Some patients cannot even step into a dental office. If this is you maybe it is a good idea to see a mental health professional who will help you in treating your anxiety. Cognitive behaviour therapy has been shown to have a positive effect on people suffering from dental phobia 4.

Arrange your friend or family member to come with you when you visit a dentist

Having someone with you will make you feel more confident and calmer. You may want to bring along your partner, friend or a family member not only for your first consultation but also to drop you off and pick you up at the end of your visit.

When you step into the treatment room, it is important to be calm, confident and trust the specialist. If you feel nervous make sure you talk to your dentist about that. As a health care professional, he/she knows how to approach anxious patients.

What can a dentist give you for anxiety?

Depending on your level of anxiety, there are a variety of options that the dentist may use to reduce your fear. Some people need just local anaesthetic, others may require to get along with nitrous oxide and other patients need IV sedation. Also, there are various medications that will help you with your anxiety level just by cutting the stress but not putting you to sleep. Those are excellent because they actually help you to relax during the appointment. Here are the ways that dentists use to manage dental anxiety.

  • Local anaesthetic. Dentists use a local anaesthetic to numb the treated area in the mouth. This way you won't feel any pain during the procedure.
  • Medications. If your fear is mild you may be prescribed some medications to reduce anxiety during treatment. The dose is usually taken an hour before the dental procedure. Certain medications should be only prescribed by a professional dental care provider.
  • Nitrous oxide. It is also known as laughing gas. It may alleviate dental anxiety and help you reduce stress.
  • IV sedation. It is used for severe phobia or irrational fear of the dentist chair. This type of sedation may drift off into a light sleep. However, you will be able to respond to verbal prompts.
  • General anaesthetic. This anaesthetic tends to be reserved for extremely dental phobic patients.

Knowing that you have these options, is sometimes the step that allows you to make the decision to get the treatment done.

In the past, many people have experienced unpleasant sensations associated with pain and discomfort during their visits to the dentist and subsequent dental procedures. In modern dentistry, the concept of pain no longer exists. Fear and pain can and must be overcome through the competence and experience of the dentist and dental staff.

Today, the emphasis in treatment is entirely on the comfort of the patient in the dental chair. Dentists do their best to provide painless dental health treatment to their patients and alleviate those fears and phobias.

If you struggle with dental anxiety or you feel too much stressed about the upcoming dental procedure make sure you talk to your dentist. They understand it is a real fear and they take it seriously so you can get the much-needed care that you deserve.

Why I am so afraid of the dentist?

dental tools

There could be multiple reasons why you are feeling this fear of the dentist. It might be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. It is usually a result of past trauma and bad experience of the dentist 2 - maybe something happened when you were a kid and it's stuck in your mind. It could be hearing about someone else's bad experience and you are afraid it is going to happen to you. Or maybe even your parents put these thoughts into mind accidentally when you were a kid. Also, your fear might be due to the dental office environment in general - the sound of the dental drill sometimes can make people feel uneasy because of the unknown. Some people are afraid of what the dentist might find in their mouth. They just do not want to hear if they need any future dental work done on their teeth such as cavity fillings. Many times patients even don't know what bothers them at the dentist. They just get nervous and they are not sure why. This might be caused by an anxiety disorder which usually is non-dental related.

Whatever the case is, it is good to implement some of the above coping strategies to make it better. You need to understand that worrying or expecting severe pain during dental manipulation is a prerequisite for experiencing more severe pain. Anxious patients are 4 times more likely to experience pain than patients who do not worry.

Is dental anxiety common?

Dental anxiety is a common and serious problem. Up to 50% of people suffer some anxiety about going to the dentist. Many people, both children and adult, do not go for regular check-ups, and around 9-15% avoid the treatment they need because of fear. Dental anxiety ranges anywhere from people that feel a bit uncomfortable about visiting the dentist all the way through to people that have complete panic attacks when they even think about their dental appointment. However, you need to understand that long-term avoidance of dentists will affect both your oral health and your mental health 3 5.

If you don't go to the dentist regularly, you run the risk of developing the following problems:

  • Chronically inflamed gums and cracked teeth may affect your overall health;
  • Difficulty chewing and digesting food can cause serious disturbances in digestion and absorption of food;
  • Some oral health conditions may affect your speech and proper diction;
  • Bad breath and decayed teeth affect your self-esteem when communicating with others 6;
  • Tooth decay and gum disease often lead to missing teeth.

To conclude

It is possible to overcome your dental fear. You need to get motivated to make a change and commit to it. This can take time but the long term benefits are definitely worth it.

Modern dentistry does everything necessary to ensure that patients with dental anxiety will heal their teeth in quality and easy ways.

What do you need to do? First of all, carefully choose the clinic where you will be treated. Secondly, find a dentist you will get used to. And last but not least, make sure you have a regular dental visit at least every six months. This will protect your teeth from decaying and other more serious oral health problems.

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