Dental anxiety can go by many names — dental fear, dentist phobia, odontophobia. They all describe an intense fear of visiting the dentist for dental care. In the United States alone, there are approximately 30-40 million people who avoid seeing their dentist due to dental anxiety.
These fears — typically stemming from a traumatic experience in the past — prevent patients from attending necessary routine checkups. When you skip these appointments, you’re increasing your risk of suffering from gum disease, early tooth loss, and other dental issues.
It’s extremely common for patients to question the validity of their fears and phobias. You might think you’re crazy, but all phobias are treatable — you just need to find the right professional help and try a variety of approaches. For example, Dr. Bryan Klym in Petoskey, MI recommends CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), a type of talk therapy, to help you control the negative, harmful, or inaccurate thoughts associated with your fears.
While dental anxiety is prevalent, there are steps you can take that will allow you to get the dental care you not only deserve but also need. Below are six tips to help you cope with your fear.
Tip #1: Choose the Right Dentist
One of the easiest ways to surpass your dental anxiety is to find a remarkable dentist who truly understands your condition and will help you work through it. If your dentist doesn’t meet your standards, your anxiety will only increase.
What to Look for in a Dentist
Managing your dental fear might seem challenging, but the right dentist can make all the difference. One thing we recommend looking for when finding a dentist is if they offer a consultation or pre-treatment appointment. These meetings give you time to express your worries and evaluate the dentist.
Another way to decide if a dentist is an ideal choice is by asking them how they assess dental anxiety. While there are a variety of ways to answer this, you can learn a lot about how they’ll treat you from their response. If they use the Corah dental anxiety scale, you can rest assured that they’re using a reliable, valid, and useful measure of your fear.
When you find a specialist that empathizes with your condition and knows how to help, it’ll make receiving dental care a smooth process. One trustworthy specialist in Northridge, CA is Dr. Terence Lau. With over 30 years of dental experience, there isn’t a problem he can’t fix.
Tip #2: Distract Yourself
There are many reasons why you might fear a trip to the dentist — maybe you get nervous in new places, the dental instruments are intimidating, or you’re worried about the pain you might endure. Whatever your reason, distracting yourself during your visit can help decrease stress, anxiety, and pain.
For example, try bringing a loved one to your next appointment for support. Having someone you trust nearby can relieve stress and make you feel safe.
Another distraction that might help is to bring music with you. In 2006, researchers from Aorn Journal found that patients who listened to their own music before surgery or other procedures had significantly lower heart rates than those who didn’t listen to music. They also saw improvements in their blood pressure levels and respiratory rates.
Ask your dentist if you can bring a friend, listen to music, or if they have any other ideas to help distract you during treatment. More often than not, they’ll gladly accommodate you.
Tip #3: Breathing Techniques
While some of these tips are specifically geared towards dental anxiety, the next tip is proven to benefit all forms of anxiety. Learning about meditation, mindfulness, and breathing techniques can help you maintain control when you start feeling anxious.
One instance of a breathing technique that anybody can learn is called “calming breathing,” and you can use it when you start feeling anxious or panicked. Here’s how you do it:
- Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose — focus on filling your lower lungs first, then your upper lungs.
- Hold your breath for approximately three seconds.
- Exhale slowly with your lips pursed together as if you were blowing through a straw. While you exhale, try and relax your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.
- Repeat these steps until you feel more in control.
Tip #4: Ask What to Expect from Treatment
Dental anxiety is tough to combat when you don’t know what to expect from your appointment. Finding a dentist who clearly outlines each step in their process and why they’re doing it will help put your mind at ease. The more you understand, the less room your imagination has to create anxiety-inducing scenarios.
If you’re looking for a dental specialist who will educate you about each stage of your appointment, Dr. Chiarina Iregui in Gig Harbor, WA will help. She provides compassionate care and has the patience to work at your speed.
Tip #5: Dental Sedation
Our final tip is a viable solution in the world of dentistry for patients with mild to severe dental anxiety. Dental sedation, also known as pharmacological intervention, is an excellent option for anybody who isn’t responding to other coping techniques.
Dental sedation helps patients relax and induces a calm state of mind. When you’re at ease, it makes the dentist’s job much more manageable, which reduces your chair time and creates fewer opportunities for mistakes.
Depending on your degree of anxiety, there are three levels of sedation, and each is stronger than the last: minimal, moderate, and deep. Sedation is administered in pill form, intravenously, or by breathing a combination of nitrous oxide and oxygen.
While none of these forms of sedation will make you completely unconscious, you’ll still need someone (e.g., family member, friend, co-worker) to take you home following your appointment.
The Treatment You Deserve
If you suffer from mild to severe dental anxiety, there are ways to cope with your fear so that you can receive the dental care you need. Finding the right dentist will help establish trust and make your visit more natural. You can also practice breathing techniques and other forms of control exercises to manage your anxiety.
Whether you need dental sedation, music, or a step-by-step layout of the treatment process, some solutions will significantly reduce your condition. Nobody understands how you’re feeling better than you. For this reason, we recommend that you clearly express your needs to your dentist so they can give you the help you need and the dental care you deserve.