Very few people enjoy going to the dentist. Dental anxiety is extremely common. In fact, roughly 30 to 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety and fear at the thought of going to the dentist, so if you have dental anxiety, you are definitely not alone. According to British Dental Health Foundation survey, 36% of those that did not regularly see a dentist noted that fear was the main reason for dental anxiety
Unfortunately, those with dental anxiety often have more problems with oral hygiene, including increased occurrence of gum disease and cavities. This statistic makes sense from a practical standpoint—you do not get regular cleanings and checkups if you avoid going to the dentist. Nonetheless, seeing your dentist is important for your overall health, not just your oral health.
Dental anxiety should not keep you from taking care of yourself. Use these tips to help curb your dental anxiety and get your oral hygiene back on the right track.
Pinpointing the Cause of Your dental anxiety
To help you address your concerns, it beneficial to pinpoint exactly what it is about the visit that you not like. For some people, this is a difficult exercise because they are unsure which part of the visit makes them uncomfortable. There may also be several things about the appointment that you do not like. Some of the most common fears include:
- Fear of pain. If you have ever had a tooth pulled or extracted, you may have felt pain while in the dentist chair. For some people with sensitive gums or teeth, even a simple cleaning can be painful. Usually, this fear is because of a poor dental experience or horror stories others have shared with you. Some people had bad experiences as children that seem to haunt them as adults.
- Feelings of helplessness or loss of control. It can be difficult to sit in a chair and allow someone else to poke around in your mouth. You cannot see what is happening, and you are in a vulnerable position. The combination can be scary for some people.
- Embarrassment or concerns about personal space. The idea of someone having their fingers in your mouth can be unnerving or embarrassing for some people. The dentist and hygienists are right in your face, which can be not only a violation of personal space, but it can also be a source of unease for other reasons. Some patients feel like their oral hygiene habits are being evaluated in the dental chair, and that can be embarrassing or distressing for those who feel like they are not doing enough. The truth is, some people are genetically more prone to cavities and oral problems, so it may not matter how much they brushed or flossed. Think of a trip to the dentist as a way to maintain your health, not an evaluation or test.
- Anesthesia–related fears. Many people have a fear of needles, but for some, anesthesia triggers other fears as well. For example, some patients may fear that the anesthesia will not work properly or that it has not “set in” fully before a procedure. Others may fear the side effects that can be associated with anesthesia, such as lightheadedness or nausea.
Once you have determined exactly what is bothering you, can begin to address it. Think about one particular aspect of the visit at a time if you are unsure. Does your anxiety kick in when you think about other people you do not know well in your personal space? If not, then that might not be your triggering issue.
Overcoming Dental Anxiety
There are several methods you can use to help overcome your dental anxiety. Below are a few of our suggestions.
Communication is Key
One of the best ways that you can deal with your dental anxiety is to speak with your dentist about your concerns. Communication can help your dentist address any concerns you may have. A one-on-one conversation may be intimidating, but it should not be. Your dentist is just as interested in your oral health as you are, so having a conversation about your worries can go a long way. Your dentist can make extra efforts to ensure you are comfortable and make changes to the appointment depending on your particular cause of anxiety.
Lack of control fears may also relate to communication issues. You can also set up a system with your dentist so that you can still communicate even when he or she is working inside your mouth. Try “talking” with your hands instead. For example, if you feel uncomfortable at any time, you can raise your hand. That way, issues with pain or sensations can be addressed immediately.
If loss of control or fear of the unknown is what is triggering your anxiety, you can ask your dentist to explain what he or she is doing every step of the way. This narrative can be a helpful way to understand what is happening. For some patients, just the sound of the dentist’s voice can help curb anxiety.
Find the Right Dentist
If you have already tried talking to your dentist, and it does not seem to help, perhaps you need to try a different dentist. Your dentist should make efforts to make you feel comfortable and address any concerns that you may have. If he or she does not seem to care or try, then find a dentist that does.
You should able to trust the person that will be digging around your mouth on an annual basis. If you are uncomfortable, get out. Talk to friends and family about the dentist they use for their oral hygiene needs. Consider their recommendations and check out online ratings if they are available. You have other options!
Use Distraction to Your Advantage
Some dental offices use video glasses so that patients can watch movies during their appointments. If that option is not available, you can distract yourself by focusing on an object in the room, such as a picture, light, or even a ceiling tile. Think about a movie you just saw. Do math problems. Try to recite the alphabet backward. If your mind is busy, it will have less time to worry.
Listening to the radio, if it is available, can also be helpful. You may even want to consider bringing your own noise-canceling headphones to your appointment. Just be sure that you talk to your dentist ahead of time about how you will communicate when you have your headphones on.
If your dentist does not offer any distractions, perhaps you should suggest something that will help you focus on something other than the dental procedure. Many dentists are open to trying new things that will make their patients more comfortable. Chances are that if it helps you, it will help others as well.
Take a Break if Necessary
Sometimes just taking a few minutes away from the dental chair can do a lot to calm your nerves. If you start to feel overwhelmed, signal your dentist that you need a break. Some patients can start to feel closed in or claustrophobic during a dental procedure. Getting up or even just asking everyone to back away for a few minutes can be helpful.
You might also want to ask the dentist not to lay you back as far in the chair. Sometimes this position may make you feel vulnerable and moving the seat up a few inches can address that concern. While moving the chair up may not be possible with every procedure, it does not hurt to ask.
Consider Taking Medication or Using Sedation Dentistry
In more severe cases, you may want to consider using an anxiety medication before the procedure. You can talk to your primary physician to see if this is an option for your based on your current health condition.
Some dentists also offer sedation dentistry, which is where you receive dental care under full or partial loss of consciousness. Most patients will not need this type of solution, but it can be a good idea for severe cases of dental phobia. This kind of service is particularly relevant if you refuse to get dental care altogether because of your fear of the dentist or dental care in general.
Use What Works for You when it is about dental anxiety
It may take some time to determine what is causing your anxiety and how to fix it. Trial and error may be the only way to find something that works for your unique needs. Just be sure to let your dentist know about your anxiety and how you are trying to address it. Your dentist should be understanding and accommodating.
Dr. Jay Fensterstock is a dentist based in New York that has been practicing dentistry for over 40 years. He graduated from New York University’s College of Dentistry and opened Concerned Dental Care which has now expanded to 9 locations with over 10 affiliate locations over the New York City area. When he’s not helping patients of all ages with their oral health he can be found writing informative blogs while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate (yes it’s sugar free).