You’re not alone if you’re terrified of going to the dentist. According to a British Dental Association survey, 25% of British people have some degree of fear of going to the dentist, known as dental phobia, and an American Association of Endodontists survey found that a whopping 80% of American adults are afraid of the dentist, with half saying that their fear prevents them from scheduling a check-up.
So, what precisely is dental fear, and how can it be overcome?
There are many levels of dental apprehension. On the low end of the spectrum is a mere fear of the unknown, which may express as a reluctance to attend the dentist. On the other end of the spectrum, there is complete dental phobia. Anything linked to dentistry or oral care, such as a mouthwash commercial, can cause acute tension or fear in this environment.
Dental fear can be caused by a variety of factors, including unpleasant childhood dental experiences, a fear of losing control, a dread of needles or the dentist‘s drill, or a sense that one’s personal space is being violated.
The impact of dental fear on someone’s life certainly varies on the strength of the anxiety, but in many situations it leads the patient to feel dread before and during every visit to the dentist. Prior to their meeting, individuals may become increasingly worried with what will happen, unable to sleep, and, in more severe situations, may experience great anxiety and even panic.
Many people are so afraid of dentists that they avoid going in for routine check-ups or even when they are visibly in need of treatment. They may put up with abscesses, infected gums, and toothache rather avoid visit the dentist, and some may even put up with pain so severe that they are unable to chew with a portion of their mouth.
When dental fear prevents critical treatment, early problems such as poor dental health, discomfort, and tension can quickly deteriorate: dental problems have been found to promote or worsen other health problems in the body, such as heart disease and diabetes.
People who ignore dental problems for whatever reason, in addition to potentially major health consequences, generally face much higher financial bills as more comprehensive dental treatment becomes necessary. There are also the unavoidable consequences to a person’s confidence and peace of mind that frequently accompany poor oral and general health. It is also critical that people who are afraid of the dentist should not let it prevent them from getting regular check-ups and, if necessary, treatment.
So, what can be done to alleviate dental phobia?
Here are some basic steps that can help reduce or eliminate fear of the dentist:
To begin with, it’s crucial to note that dental technology has advanced much in recent years, and if your concern is founded on traumatic earlier experiences, you may rest certain that things will be much easier and less painful now. For example, if you’re frightened of injections, dentists can now use a gel that numbs your gums prior to the injection, so you don’t feel it. You can also inquire about the many sedation alternatives available.
Dentists have been increasingly cognizant of the need of soothing and calming patients in recent years. Many dentists go out of their way to make their clinics as welcoming and soothing as possible, with pleasant surroundings and a courteous workforce. Many offer therapy and will be pleased to just walk you through your options. The trick here is to select a dentist who specialises in treating apprehensive people and with whom you feel at ease. It’s well worth checking about, and with so many dentists accessible in most locations, there’s no reason to stick with a dentist with whom you can’t relax or who you believe isn’t the ideal fit for the job.
Before you go to the dentist, attempt to figure out why you’re afraid: when did you first notice it? Was there a specific reason? Anxiety of the dentist is sometimes fairly generalised, but if you can specify the source of your fear, or what exactly you’re scared of, you’ll be able to address this with the dentist, and he or she will be able to put your mind at ease.
If you’re extremely nervous, you can take a step-by-step approach to your dental care by gradually building up to your treatment over a period of sessions. This will give you more and more confidence in going to the dentist. For example, your initial appointment could simply be to review various alternatives with your dentist and possibly receive some counselling.
Your second visit could be for a basic check in which the dentist merely uses a mirror, and then your next appointment could be for a simple clean and polish.
Many patients are worried because they believe they are powerless while at the dentist. Consider deciding on a “stop” sign with the dentist: when you make a specific motion, he or she will stop treatment and allow you to take a breather or ask questions. A simple method like this can significantly enhance your confidence and help you relax.
Another thing you may do to relax when at the dentist is to focus your mind on something other than your treatment. Consider listening to music, an audio book, or a speech or lecture: your dentist should be fine with you bringing your iPod or music player into the treatment room, and some will even play your music over speakers in the treatment area.
You can also utilise mental activities or games to divert your attention away from your treatment while you’re in the dentist’s chair. You can also plan ahead of time, think of something to treat yourself with after your visit, or simply reflect on some of your favourite memories (or ideas to create new ones!) You can also set yourself physical tasks, such as trying to wiggle each of your toes separately! Before you go to the dentist, try to think of methods to direct your focus to something that will help you relax.
Here are a few more suggestions to help you unwind:
- Look for organisations that specialise in assisting persons with phobias (ask your doctor and check local healthcare websites)
- Consider using hypnosis to assist you overcome your fears: the outcomes can be really effective for certain people.
- Go to the dentist with a pal.
- Eat something before leaving so you don’t pass out during therapy.
Whatever you decide, the best way to overcome your fear of the dentist in the long run is to first accept that dental care from a skilled dentist is necessary for your overall health and well-being, and then to make dental treatment almost unnecessary, so that you don’t actually need anything other than the occasional check-up and cleaning. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss on a regular basis, and take care of your overall health. By doing so, you’ll soon find yourself in a loop where you only see your dentist twice a year for routine check-ups that take only a few minutes and are painless. When you reach this point, you’ll realise that going to the dentist is no longer a huge source of anxiety for you, but rather “routine.”