A certain extent of apprehension is normal before going to the dentist, or any doctor for that matter. But if your anxiety affects your oral health and prevent you from going to the dentist, you may be experiencing dental fear, anxiety, or phobia.
Current estimates reveal that between 5-8% of Canadians avoid dentists out of fear. Meanwhile, 20% are anxious to the point that they will only seek dental treatment only when necessary.
Dental anxiety, fear, or phobia are usually triggered by certain events or experiences, and some of these are:
- Loss of control – Some patients feel like they’re losing control when they lie on a dental chair and find it overwhelming when a dentist hover above their heads and probe inside their mouths. They typically associate the feeling with helplessness or being trapped.
- Pain – Most people dread going to the dentist out of fear of pain, especially those who have a low pain threshold.
- Embarrassment – Some patients feel ashamed or embarrassed when dentists look inside their mouths and examine their gums and teeth. Discomfort can also result from the little distance between a patient and dentist during treatment.
- Past Experience – Most people develop dental fears due to a bad experience in the past. If a previous treatment was painful or resulted to complications, a patient may develop trepidation’s about going to the dentist again.
Dental Anxiety, Fear, and Phobia: Knowing the Difference
Dental anxiety, fear, and phobia are similar in a sense that they all have something to do with apprehensions about going to the dentist. However, they differ to some extent.
Dental anxiety refers to being uneasy or worried about something unknown. Most patients experience this to a certain degree, especially if they’re about to undergo a treatment for the first time. Meanwhile, fear is a reaction to a known danger, which can be brought about by a bad experience in the past. It can also result to a fight-or-flight reaction.
Dental phobia, on the other hand, is a more intense feeling of fear or dread. People who have it are typically panic-stricken and will do anything to avoid dental visits and treatments. Typically, dental phobics only visit dentists and seek treatment when their condition becomes overwhelming.
Dental anxiety, fear, and phobia not just result to poor oral health, but also affect a person’s well-being. In fact, they can pave way for other health problems, low self-esteem, or self doubt.
Overcoming Dental Fears
There are ways to overcome any apprehensions you may have about going to the dentist. Here are ten ways to help you do so.
1. Recognize your Fears.
To better understand your feelings and address them, you need to come into terms with your anxiety or fear of going to the dentist. Write your fears down, so that you can talk about them better. Listing your fears will not just help you recognize them, but also aid your dentist in explaining what’s causing your anxiety or phobia and helping you deal with it.
2. Find the Right Dentist.
A big part of overcoming your dental fears is choosing the right dental center to work with. Look up local listings and ask family and friends for recommendations. Focus your search on dentists who specialize in treating anxious or fearful patients.
Once you narrowed down choices, start calling each of them. Observe how the staff talks to you. Are they accommodating? Do they sound dismissive? Did the dentist return your call? If you’re comfortable talking with them on the phone, you can schedule a visit to get a feel of the place and meet the dentist in person.
On your visit, take note of the place’s atmosphere and surroundings. If it’s clean and you feel relaxed, then that’s a good sign it’s a clinic that can address not just your oral problems but also your anxiety.
While it’s comforting to hear phrases like, “There’s nothing you should worry about,” or “It’s going to be different with us,” keep in mind that a good dentist will not say those things. Instead, the right dentist will offer assurance through an understanding of your fears without making you feel judged.
3. Communicate your Fears and Anxiety.
The foundation of any good relationship is communication. Early on, even before you set an appointment with a dentist, it’s best to be vocal about your apprehensions, fears, and anxiety. This way, you’re giving the dentist a way to gauge your situation and tailor an action plan suited for your needs. In most cases, dentists would devise cues and signals if you want to take breaks or stop the treatment if you get uncomfortable.
4. Determine Ways to Gradually Reduce your Fears.
For people with dental fear, visits should not just be about getting a procedure done, it should be about creating a good experience, so that any fear or anxiety can be reduced. The right doctor will not rush you into treatment if you’re uncomfortable
As you work with a dentist, see if you can begin with milder treatments, so that you can ease into sitting on that dental chair and having your dentist look inside your mouth. Once you’re ready, you can proceed to more advanced treatments.
5. Bring a Companion During Appointments.
Having someone with you on a dental appointment, may it be a friend or family member, can offer an extra layer of support and assurance. If possible, see if your loved one can still keep you company even during a procedure.
TIP: Go with someone who doesn’t have any fears about going to the dentists. More so, schedule the appointment in the morning, so that you can spend less time dwelling on your apprehensions.
6. See if Sedatives are Appropriate.
Sedation can be administered to keep a patient calm and relaxed during treatment. Some sedatives include local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, and oral or IV sedation. Discuss with your dentist if sedatives are advisable, and if so, which one will work best for you.
7. Practice Relaxation Techniques.
Relaxation exercises can help you stay calm during treatment. One of the ways you can relax is through controlled breathing, which involves taking a big breath and letting it out very slowly. This will help relax your muscle and slow your heartbeat.
8. Use Distractions.
Distractions can help divert your attention during treatment. Some of the ways to take your mind off the procedure are listening to music, fiddling with a stress ball, and counting to yourself. Meanwhile, you can also watch a funny video or a feel-good clip to help you relax before appointments.
9. Seek the Help of a Psychologist.
If your fear is so intense and none of the tips mentioned above worked for you, consider consulting a psychologist. Psychologists specialize in addressing phobias including dental fear.
10. Reward Yourself.
Once you overcome your dental fear or make milestones like finishing a particular dental treatment, reward yourself. Buy something nice or do something fun like going on a weekend getaway. Doing so will help you relate dental visits with fun activities.
Keep in Mind
Dental treatments are way more advanced now as compared to a few years back. In fact, there are ways to do things with as minimal pain as possible—from the administration of anesthesia to surgery. More so, dentists recognize that people have apprehensions about going to them, so they continue to strive in providing a comfortable and reassuring atmosphere for patients.
A dental visit is not as dreadful as you think, because its goal is to keep your oral health in check. If you’re trying to overcome your anxiety or fear, keep the ten tips discussed to make your appointment as comfortable as possible.