Dental Phobia: How to Overcome Dental Anxiety/Fear of the Dentist
If the thought of visiting the dentist makes you feel anxious, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by the British Dental Association, approximately one in four people experience this fear to some degree. Of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly, 36% said it was due to fear…
But what exactly is dental fear, and what can you do to get over it?
First off, it’s important to know that there are various levels of dental fear. On the lower side of the scale is the stress or uneasiness some people feel when they are examined by doctors and dentists, together with concerns they may have about painful treatment.
However on the high end of the scale is what’s known as dental phobia. This is where people experience an intense fear or dread of dental treatment. They may be so frightened or panicked that they’ll do anything to avoid a dental appointment, even when there’s clearly a problem such as gum disease, pain or broken teeth.
This avoidance of dental treatment can often cause minor problems to become major personal or health issues. People with dental phobia are far more likely to suffer gum disease or tooth loss, as well as serious health issues that have been linked to poor dental health such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
There is often a personal cost to poor dental health, too. People who tend to avoid the dentist may suffer from discoloured or damaged teeth and bad breath: factors that lead to a lack of confidence and feelings of embarrassment in social situations.
However, the good news is that people who suffer from dental anxiety and even extreme phobia can be treated. Without treatment, things are likely to get worse, so it’s important to begin treatment as soon as possible.
Causes of dental anxiety and dental phobia
There tend to be common causes for both dental anxiety and dental phobia:
Fear of pain
People who’ve experienced pain or discomfort in the past tend to feel more concerned about future treatments than others with only positive dental experiences. This is a common fear, especially in patients in their late 20s and onwards who may have had bad experiences at the dentist in the days before pain-free treatment was developed.
Fear of loss of control
For some patients, sitting in the dentist’s chair can trigger feelings of helplessness and being out of control which they may not often experience in their daily lives. This can create stress and anxiety.
Some people feel ashamed of their teeth or dental hygiene, or may be embarrassed at having someone they don’t know well so physically close. They may also feel self-conscious or fearful of the way they may respond to treatment (for example, they may fear they’ll panic while in the chair.)
Fear of the environment at the dental clinic
Some patients are fearful of the sights, sounds and smells of the treatment room, while others may be afraid of things like radiation from the x-ray machine or the cleanliness of the dental instruments.
What can be done to help people who suffer from dental anxiety or dental phobia?
The first thing you need to do if you are a nervous patient or experience dental phobia is to pinpoint what exactly you are nervous about. It isn’t necessary to isolate the actual cause of this feeling – you may know that and you may not – but if you don’t know exactly what it is that worries you, it’s going to be difficult to find a solution to your problem.
So, as a starting point, have a think about what it is that bothers you. If you find this difficult, you can try an alternate approach and consider exactly what type of experience you’d like to have when you visit the dentist. What would your dream appointment be like?
Once you’ve worked this out, you can then take the first steps to dealing with your problem – finding a dentist that makes you feel as comfortable as possible, and then talking to them about our concerns.
Your ideal dentist
Your ideal dentist will be someone you feel you can trust.
He or she should not just have the required technical skills to treat you (you can find this out by asking for “before and after” pictures, checking websites and reading patient reviews) but should also be someone you feel you can talk to: someone who won’t try to brush your concerns away…
When you’ve found a dentist you think might be suitable, schedule some time with them to talk about your fears. If they can’t find the time to do this for you, then find someone else.
Remember that whatever your fears, you must not dismiss them as stupid or try to hide them – everyone is unique in how they feel and you won’t be laughed at.
Other things you can do to relax during dental appointments
Let’s start with the simple things:
Get a tour of the practice and ask questions before you come in for treatment. Come and meet the dental staff – you’ll feel more relaxed when you know you have a caring team supporting you. They’ll be happy to show you around and answer your questions. For example, if you’re concerned about what equipment they use, tell the dentist. He’ll be happy to show the equipment to you and help allay your fears. Why feel stressed when you can feel reassured?
Schedule your dental appointment for when it suits you best – either in the morning, so you won’t be thinking about it all day, or, if you prefer, schedule it for the afternoon when you’ve had time to get into your normal frame of mind. Whatever works best for you!
Eat something before your appointment – feeling anxious on an empty stomach isn’t going to make you feel good. So do what you need to do to feel comfortable and relaxed – that includes eating something!
Don’t rush – give yourself plenty of time to get to your appointment so you’re not unnecessarily stressed when you arrive
Take control of the environment – make the environment more relaxing by bringing in a CD or a music player that you can listen to and relax. You can also bring a friend with you to make you feel more comfortable. Finally, try to think positive thoughts while you’re being treated – you could even plan a holiday!
Choose a “Stop” signal – agree on a stop sign with the dentist (usually, raising your left hand) that you can make when you want him to pause treatment if you need to take a break or feel uncomfortable.
Opt for “incremental treatments” – instead of coming in for something major and feeling overwhelmed, start small and come in for a simple check-up. It could be something as minor as the dentist just putting the mirror in your mouth and having a look around…
Ask about sedation – if you feel stressed ask the dentist to give you a sedative – you’ll feel so relaxed that you probably won’t remember your treatment at all!
Take good care of your teeth at home – home care is essential in preventing problems. Also, make sure to keep up with your 6 monthly appointments so you can be sure that you’ll never need anything more serious than a check-up and a cleaning!
Give yourself a treat after your dental appointment (that’s why they call it “treatment!” 😉 – it doesn’t just have to be children who get something special after visiting the dentist! Go and reward yourself with something that you really enjoy – a spa visit, a gift for yourself or a wonderful experience. And by associating these treats with your trips to the dentist, you might even start to think about them more positively!
Remember that dentistry has evolved – we no longer live in the dark ages of dentistry! In fact, pain free dentistry is now the norm. In just the same way that doctors use “minimally invasive” techniques when they operate, so do we!
For example, at Euro Dental Care we:
* Use numbing gels to stop you even feeling the pain of the anaesthetic (which in turn stops you feeling any pain from your treatment!)
* Can provide sedation to create a sleepy state of deep relaxation in patients who are nervous
* Use advanced tools like air polishing that are less abrasive and don’t hurt like old-fashioned tools used to…
The strategies above will help you feel more relaxed about your dental appointment. The most important thing is that you share how you feel so that we can help you. And if you ever have any concerns, questions or feedback about your dental treatment, please let us know when you visit the practice, by telephone on: 0121 428 2999 or by email at: [email protected].