Does just thinking about going to the dentist cause you to run for the hills? You’re not alone. Between nine and 20 percent of Americans avoid dental appointments because they are afraid of the experience they think they’ll have in the dentist’s chair. And, unfortunately, people with intense fears or dental phobias only see a dentist when they’re in extreme pain. So if dental anxiety has you putting off necessary dental treatment, the following information can help allay your fears and put you on the road to better dental health.
Signs of a Dental Phobia
Slight nervousness before going to the dentist is not uncommon, especially when you’re scheduled for more complex procedures. But if you feel panicky when driving by a dental office or find yourself unable to sleep the night before your appointment, you may have a dental phobia. Other symptoms include dodging dental appointments, feeling physically ill or crying when anticipating an office visit or having a pounding heart, sweaty hands or trouble breathing during treatment.
Reasons for Your Fears
It’s not uncommon to have some apprehension about an upcoming dental procedure, particularly if it’s an unfamiliar one. But deep-seated phobias are usually the result of a previous unpleasant incident, whether it be dental, medical or some other life event. If you are someone who equates dental treatment with pain, it may be because your last treatment took place before today’s advances in anesthesia and pain-free techniques.
A fear of needles or an overactive gag reflex can also cause many people to avoid dental appointments, as can feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability when in the dental chair. Keep in mind that the dread of doctors and dentists can also be transferred from parent to child.
The New and Improved Dental Visit
Let’s face it, the good old days were more like the bad old days when it came to dental appointments. But with innovative advances in painless dentistry and improved training on how to treat fearful patients, dentists are now able to make visits more comfortable and less stressful than ever before. In fact, many people who were once frightened now describe their visits as surprisingly pleasant.
Today’s modern offices have cozy, well-furnished waiting rooms with soothing music. And, while in the chair, you can listen to your favorite music with headphones, watch a TV installed in the ceiling or use goggles to view videos. These positive distractions can keep your mind off of the dental treatment. And, if the glaring lights bother your eyes, the staff will loan you a pair of sunglasses.
Dentists also recommend relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mental imaging that can help transport your mind to a place where you feel safe and tranquil. With practice, you may even be able to fall asleep—or at least enter a deep meditative state—during treatment.
Overcoming Your Phobia
If you struggle with a dental phobia or even mild anxiety, here are some tips to help you alleviate your worries about seeing a dentist.
- Look for a dentist who is sensitive and works with fearful patients. Ask friends and family for recommendations, or call your local dental society.
- Don’t be embarrassed: Talk to the dentist and staff about your fears.
- Schedule your appointment early in the day so you have less time to get nervous.
- Ask a friend to accompany you.
- Start out with easy procedures, such as exams and cleanings.
- Discuss anesthesia and sedation options before scheduling complex procedures.
Know that once you have good dental experiences under your belt, your fears will continue to lessen with each appointment. And, just as an apple a day keeps the doctor away, good home care and regular checkups can keep you from ever needing complicated dental procedures.