Do you have a fear of the dentist? If you do, you are not alone. Approximately 75% of adults experience some form of anxiety before or during a visit to the dentist. Some experience a fear that is so debilitating they avoid dental visits and treatment altogether. As you can imagine, this has serious consequences on one’s oral health. If you suffer from any type of dental anxiety, there are things you can do to help ease your fear so you can keep that appointment.
What Causes Dental Anxiety and Your Fear of the Dentist?
There is any number of reasons you may have a fear of going to the dentist. A big one for a lot of people is fear of pain. Perhaps you had a traumatically painful dental visit in your childhood, or you’ve heard one too many horror stories from people going through their own dental treatment. The tools used during dental procedures and cleanings can also look a little scary. So patients already in a high state of anxiety can really be intimidated by them.
Another cause of dental anxiety is having someone so close to them during their appointment. They may be self-conscious about bad breath, the condition of their teeth and oral health, or patients might simply feel uncomfortable being that close to a stranger. Loss of control can be another factor. As you lay reclined in a dental chair with your mouth wide open, it’s natural that you may feel a bit vulnerable. All of these things add up and often result in a lot of anxiety for dental patients and in turn, a fear of the dentist.
Symptoms of Dental Anxiety
Do you lose sleep the night before your dental appointment? Feel as if butterflies are dancing the Macarena in your stomach in the waiting room? Experience an intense need to escape as soon as your dental hygienist picks up the first tool? All of these are symptoms of dental anxiety. Anxiety is caused by a release of hormones associated with our ‘fight or flight’ response. When your body perceives something as a threat, it prepares you to either fight your way out of it or run to avoid danger. In the case of dental anxiety, this response is triggered because your brain perceives the dentist and your dental visit as a threat. Now, the rational side of you knows that isn’t true. You know that you visit the dentist because your oral health is the gateway to the overall health of your body. Luckily, there are coping mechanisms that you can deploy if you find yourself suffering from fear of dental care.
How to Deal With Dental Anxiety
There are a million ways people cope with anxiety. In a way, patients with dental anxiety can consider themselves almost lucky. You know exactly what is making you anxious – going to the dentist. Using some of these ideas may require some courage, they are sure to help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety you feel surrounding your dental treatment.
Explain How You Feel
Trust us, your dentist is no stranger to dental anxiety. And their main goal is to find a way to make their patients comfortable enough to maintain their routine dental care visits. Make sure to mention that you have some anxiety surrounding your visit when you make your appointment, and again when you arrive. Feel free to blurt it out to both your hygienist and your dentist! Getting it out in the open can often be enough to take the burden of dental anxiety off your shoulders and place it on theirs. They have a lot of experience reassuring patients with dental anxiety and will take extra time to explain what they’re doing and how it might make you feel. This kind of open communication can also help patients get to know their dentist, which will also make patients more comfortable.
Try to Stay in the Moment
This may sound a bit cliche, but staying in the moment during your appointment can help keep you grounded. A lot of the time, the anticipation of what is to come is way worse than the actual treatment. Practice mindfulness techniques while you’re in the waiting room before your appointment, or even while sitting in the dental chair. Count your breaths as you slowly inhale and exhale. Do what’s called a body scan, concentrating on relaxing every muscle in your body, starting with your head and working your way down to your toes. Both of these exercises are great for releasing tension in the body and help with dental anxiety.
Don’t underestimate the power of distraction! Bring your favorite book to read in the waiting room, or listen to relaxing music on your headphones. You may also consider bringing a stress ball with you to your visit, or a fidget spinner to help keep your hands, and your brain, occupied. Anything that keeps your mind off your fear and onto things that make you happy will help ease your fear of the dentist.
Remember You are Not Alone
No matter how frightened you are, always remember that you are in good company. Many people just like you have bouts of dental anxiety and even dental phobia. But your health matters – so no matter how scared you are, please call and make an appointment. And remember, your dental team understands your dental anxiety and only wants to to ensure you receive the best care and treatment. Whatever it takes to maintain your oral health. Be sure to tell us about your fear of the dentist, and we’ll do everything in our power to help ease your dental anxiety. It’s worth it!