Have you been putting off a dental appointment because of fear, anxiety, or nervousness? You’re not alone. Approximately 50% of the American population reported avoiding dental care because of anxiety and fear.
Regular dental care is important for your oral and overall health. So how do you overcome negative emotions?
1. Find a Dentist You Trust
Many people avoid going to the dentist because of a previous bad experience. Wipe the slate clean and find a new dentist you can trust.
How do you go about finding a new dentist? Ask friends and family members for recommendations. Read online reviews.
When you think you’ve found a good potential candidate, visit their office.
- How are the phones answered?
- Is the staff friendly and calm?
- Does the office convey an atmosphere of calm, clean, and professionalism?
- Is the reception area comfortable and welcoming?
A highly recommended dentist who’s office puts you at ease is likely a good choice for your next appointment.
2. Identify Your Feelings
There are many reasons that people have for fearing the dentist.
- Fear of pain
- Fear of side effects
- Stress about not having control
- Worries about the cost of procedures
- Embarrassment over mouth health or appearance
Researchers who look into dental anxieties find the same themes emerging. The fear of pain is typical in adults aged 24 and older, many who may have had bad experiences before pain-free dentistry procedures became popular.
As many as 6% of adults fear a painful dental experience.
It’s very common for people to fear situations in which they have no control. X-rays, cleanings, molding, and other procedures can bring up these negative emotions in which you may feel “stuck” in a chair and out of control of a situation.
Feeling embarrassed? Having someone inches away from your face peering into your mouth can make many people self-conscious or uncomfortable.
When you can identify which areas of the dental experience cause you the most anxiety, it’s easier to address them and work with a dentist to overcome these specific issues.
3. Recognize Symptoms of Anxiety
Is it a general unease, a tendency to procrastinate, or a full-blown dental phobia? Everyone has their own fears and concerns and different ways of coping.
Recognizing the signs of dental anxiety can help you understand where you are and what help you need to overcome them.
- You procrastinate or put off regular dental exams.
- You feel tense or can’t sleep the day before a dental exam.
- You feel like crying when you think of a dental exam.
- The thought of a dentist makes you feel physically ill.
- You get increasingly nervous in the waiting room.
- You panic or have trouble breathing during a dental appointment.
4. Be Vocal About Your Feelings
Your dentist has seen many patients with dental anxiety before. He or she may have a special protocol and procedures in place for patients with dental fear, anxiety, or phobias.
But there’s no way for your dentist and their staff to know that you need some extra care unless you speak up.
Tell your dentist and their staff about your specific worries or concerns.
- What symptoms have you identified?
- What are the feelings you’ve identified?
- Are there any underlying causes that you’ve discovered?
Don’t be embarrassed to speak up about your concerns. Remember that approximately half of Americans experience dental anxiety in some form or another - you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Your dentist is equipped to help you -- as long as you let them know you need it.
5. Discuss Comfort Protocols
If you have dental anxiety stemming from a painful visit long-ago, you may not realize the sedation and pain relieving options you now have available for dental exams and procedures.
Your dentist may be able to offer you a local anesthetic, topical rinses, liquids, sprays, or gels to reduce pain during an exam or treatment.
A relatively new concept in dental care is sedation dentistry - also referred to as comfort dentistry. Your dentist may be able to offer you medication to help you relax, such as nitrous oxide, oral sedation medication, or even deep sedation (general anesthesia).
Talk to your doctor about comfort protocols they offer and which one would be best for your procedure and level of anxiety.
6. Ask About Alternative Comfort Options
Not all comfort care options are pharmacological. If you want to ease your stress and anxiety without a sedative, there are many alternative options available to you.
Your dentist may offer you:
- Noise canceling headphones
- Video on demand in your chair
- Relaxation music
- Heated blanket
- Essential oils
- Warm or cold gel packs
7. Practice Mindfulness
There’s one way to banish pain and anxiety at the dentist that you have complete control over: mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical studies to reduce chronic pain by 57%.
Accomplished meditators can reduce pain by over 90%.
You don’t have to sit cross-legged on a pillow and chant for an hour while burning incense and wearing robes to take advantage of this method for pain relief.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing - feel the air filling your lungs and then leaving your body.
- Watch as your breathing becomes slower and deeper.
- Mentally scan your body from head to toe, observe places where you are holding tension.
- Smooth and relax each area as you scan. Mentally direct your breath to the places where you feel tense or anxious.
- When an outside thought arises, simply re-focus on your breath.
Another way to practice mindfulness is to focus on gratitude over anxiety. Research shows that people who practice gratitude are more optimistic and experience less anxiety. Try feeling gratitude for your teeth, their function in supporting your body’s health, and your access to good dental care.
8. Take Control
If you fear dental exams because you don’t like the feeling of being out-of-control, you’re not alone. Many people feel anxious at the thought of being confined to a chair, having instruments placed inside their mouths, getting x-rays, or feeling limited in their communications.
Take back control!
Let your dentist/ dental assistant know how you are feeling and establish a safe signal. The signal can be as simple as you raising your hand.
Anytime you signal to your dentist that you need a break, they can stop what they’re doing and give you a moment to regain comfort.
9. Explore Financing Options
Dental work can be costly, especially if you’ve been putting off a problem for a long time. And anxiety about cost can cause people to procrastinate making a much-needed appointment.
Regular appointments and cleanings can help keep your mouth healthy, often eliminating more costly issues before they arise.
When a more costly procedure is necessary for your health and comfort, however, talk to your dentist about financing options. Most offices will work with you to create a comfortable payment arrangement and find you financing that will allow you to get the treatment you need.
10. Know When You Need Extra Help
If you have an intense, irrational fear of the dentist that can’t be overcome with mindfulness, pharmacological or alternative comfort care options, or finding a trusted dentist, it’s possible you may need the help of a professional.
Mental health professionals take phobias - a diagnosable illness - very seriously.
A professional can conduct an evaluation and deploy a treatment plan. Very often, behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy are common treatments to help patients overcome phobias.
Maintaining good oral health through regular dental checkups is important. Don’t let stress, anxiety, or fear keep you from getting the care you need for a healthy, beautiful smile.