Medically reviewed by Dr. James Ko

How To Overcome Dental Anxiety?

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6 months ago

Are you afraid of going to the dentist? If you are, don’t worry—thousands of people suffer from dental phobia. Fortunately, you have options to help you overcome this problem. Dental anxiety comes from many different sources and can keep people from getting the regular checkups that they need, but it can also be overcome in a similar way to other common phobias. You will find a detailed discussion about this problem as well as ways you can get rid of dental fears below.

Why Does Dental Anxiety Exist?

Dental phobia is a common issue, but why are people scared of the dentist? After all, your dentist is there to keep your smile looking great and make sure that minor oral problems don’t become major sources of pain. From a logical standpoint, nobody should ever be afraid of a dental appointment. Of course, fear doesn’t work based on logic. People have numerous reasons to be afraid of the dentist, and knowing that those fears aren’t always founded in fact doesn’t often help them ignore the anxiety.

A dental office invokes all the common fears associated with a doctor’s office, including a fear of needles and pain. Additionally, patients tend to find themselves in a more vulnerable position during a dental checkup. Lying back with a bright light in your face is hard enough, but the fact that you can’t speak during much of the appointment means that you can’t use one of the most common coping mechanisms that might help in overcoming dentophobia. Finally, the fact that at least half of all adults don’t brush and floss as often as they should means that people often feel embarrassed about the examination.

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Before we get into how to deal with dental anxiety, it’s important to recognize these fears. Many people have them, and they are not completely unfounded. However, giving into those fears means missing out on valuable treatment. Since it is much better to deal with a little short-term anxiety than to let a small dental problem fester and grow, it is very worthwhile to think about how to get rid of dental fears as you prepare for your next appointment. Those who experience a fear of going to the dentist can use the tips below to help overcome this problem.

Choose Your Dentist Wisely

Your choice of dentist plays a major role in any attempt at overcoming dentophobia. If you have a good rapport with your dentist, you will find yourself less anxious during an examination or procedure. This in turn will make it easier for you to cope with your fears. When choosing a dentist, talk to friends and family members in your area to get some advice. Make an attempt to speak with the dentist personally to see whether you have compatible goals and personalities. Many dentists will allow a patient to book time to talk before scheduling any appointments, as this allows them to better understand what the patient’s health needs and goals are.

If you already have a dentist but you don’t feel that you have a rapport with that individual, talk to your dental office about the problem. Some offices have multiple dentists and may be able to find somebody who meets your needs better. If you can’t find anybody at your current office who fits your needs, look into other options within your area. If you are open and honest with your dental office, your existing dentist might even be able to make a recommendation. Some people may hesitate when taking this step out of fear of hurting the dentist’s feelings. Remember that your feelings are important, too, and that most dentists can be professional about the matter if it helps you to improve your overall health.

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Talk Through the Procedures

Images of old-fashioned dental tools and fictional portrayals of frightening, sadistic dentists act as immense contributors to the general level of dental anxiety within society. In reality, dental tools and procedures have evolved to such a degree that they don’t often cause much pain at all. While dentists and dental assistants still use some sharp metal tools during procedures, many instruments have been replaced with safer, painless alternatives. For example, many dental offices use a water pick for cleaning, which eliminates the sensation of metal scraping along teeth and is also more hygienic.

If you feel nervous about a procedure, take some time to talk with your dentist or dental assistant before you lean back in the chair and let them get to work. The professional can provide you with a concise but detailed summary of what is about to happen, which instruments are being used, and what the procedure will accomplish. Knowing what to expect can make a huge difference when it comes to handling your fears.

Identify Your Fears

What, specifically, makes you nervous about a trip to the dentist? Are you worried about the use of a drill for cavities? Does the sound of a metal pick against your tooth make your skin crawl? Are you embarrassed that you don’t brush and floss enough? Before you go into the dentist’s office, take the time to fully consider why you are afraid of the dentist. Once you identify the source of the fear, you can take steps to get your anxiety under control.

Don’t be afraid to mention your fears to your dentist. In fact, the more you describe them, the more your dentist can help you to deal with them. For example, your dentist might decide that the best course of action is to give you a warning as to the kinds of sensations you should expect. The more communication you provide ahead of time, the more you and your dentist can reduce your anxiety levels and get your fears under control. This is a major step to making sure that you go through all the necessary cleanings and procedures to keep your mouth healthy.

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Use Mindfulness Techniques

Even if you are petrified of sitting in the check-up chair, you don’t have to remain passive about your fears. Mindfulness techniques can help make sure that your mind and body are in sync throughout a procedure. These techniques include deep breathing and meditation, both of which you can do while your dentist goes to work. In fact, you can often use these techniques as a way of keeping yourself occupied and making it feel like the appointment is going by faster.

Simple techniques that you can work on while at an appointment includes deep breathing and guided imagery. For deep breathing, you just need to focus on your breath rate. The 4-7-8 method, for example, involves you breathing in to the count of four, holding that breath until the count of seven, and then breathing out to the count of eight. This slows down the physical functions that cause anxiety in your body. The focus on counting also provides your mind with a distraction. Guided imagery simply involves you imagining yourself in another location as vividly as possible. Combined with the breathing technique, this can help your body relax and will leave you feeling much better throughout the procedure.

When to Request Sedation

If all else fails and you still can’t handle a dental procedure without getting anxious, you can speak with your dentist about the possibility of sedation. Dentists have a wide variety of different sedation options that can leave you feeling numb or even render you unconscious during a procedure. Most of the time, doctors prefer to use sedation only for procedures that might cause a great deal of pain or bleeding, as this enables the dentist to minimize potential complications. However, if your dental fears would normally prevent you from getting important treatment that you need, your dentist might be willing to offer sedation choices to keep you calm and let the procedure move forward as planned.

Sedation runs the gamut from inducing partial numbness in a localized area to rendering a patient fully unconscious during a procedure. Generally speaking, the more intensive the procedure, the stronger the sedation. If part of your dentophobia stems from a lapse in professional cleanings, sedation dentistry can allow your dental team to perform large-scale cleaning all at once. This catches you up quickly on potential years of lapsed cleanings. However, sedation does come with its risks. Any sort of anesthesia has the chance of complications, especially if you have medication allergies. Also, your insurance may not cover sedation if it was only justified by your dental anxiety and wouldn’t normally have been chosen by your dentist.

If you are afraid of the dentist, you don’t need to be ashamed of that fact. There are many options to help you overcome your phobia and make sure that your teeth and gums stay healthy at the same time. If you follow the advice above, you should be able to overcome your fears and get the care you need. The first step to making sure that your smile stays dazzling is to communicate with your dentist and set any potential fears aside.

Andrea Galick

Andrea Galick is an accomplished Dental Hygienist (RDH) with a passion for helping patients achieve optimal oral health. Andrea has built a reputation as a caring and skilled practitioner who puts her patients at ease and provides individualized care that meets their unique needs.

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