Just like some people avoid clowns or hiking in the Southwest, many people feel fearful when they visit the dentist. Their fears may stem from painful past experiences or even something as simple as their embarrassment over letting their teeth get bad and needing work.
Identifying what causes your anxiety is important to help you find ways to ease it. Finding the right dentist is also vital.
1. Get to Know Your Dentist
Dental fear and anxiety are common problems that can lead to poor oral health and other health-related issues. It’s important to understand what causes your fears, so you can take steps to address them.
Some people’s fears are triggered by bad experiences in the past. Others are worried about the noises or tools that dentists and hygienists use during cleanings and exams. It’s also common for some to worry that their dental treatments will be painful.
If you have a fear of visiting the dentist, talk to your family and friends about their experiences. Ask them for recommendations and try to find a dentist that will be understanding of your concerns. It’s also a good idea to research the advancements in dentistry, so you know what to expect when you visit the dentist. If you’re worried about the pain, be sure to discuss sedation or other options with your dentist before your appointment. You should also be honest with your dentist about your fears and anxieties so they can help you overcome them. It may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort to get over your fear of visiting the dentist.
2. Be Honest About Your Fears
If you’re afraid of clowns, you avoid the circus; if you’re afraid of snakes, you don’t hike in Arizona. But the dentist’s tools aren’t as scary or intimidating as a snake or a ringmaster and you need to take steps to overcome your fear to stay healthy.
One of the most important things you can do is be honest about your fears and anxieties to your dentist. This will help them know what to expect and work to make your appointment as comfortable as possible.
Identify your anxiety triggers: It could be the sight of a tray full of tools, a fear of needles, or a phobia of blood (hemophobia). Having a clear understanding of what frightens you will help your dentist put together a plan to manage it.
For example, they might agree to let you hold a teddy bear during treatment or use a stress ball, or they can ask the nurse to distract you during a procedure. Bringing a friend to your appointments can also provide an extra level of comfort and they may even get you laughing.
3. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Practicing relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing and meditation can help calm nerves. It is important to find a technique that works best for you and practice it often.
You can also use visualization to create a happy place where you feel calm. For example, you can imagine yourself lying on a beach or in your favorite vacation spot. This helps to calm anxiety and can be done while in the waiting room or in the chair.
It is important to try and find ways to relax because avoiding dental visits can cause serious health issues including cavities, gum disease, loose teeth or bad breath. Regular visits to the dentist can help prevent these issues, and it is also possible for a dental phobia to be managed with medication such as an anti-anxiety drug or conscious sedation.
If you are still struggling to overcome your fear of the dentist, you can seek support from a mental health professional. BetterHelp is an online service that can connect you with a licensed therapist to assist you.
4. Take a Friend to Your Appointment
It’s important to know that you are not alone if you feel anxiety about dental visits. Some people are afraid of the dentist because they had a bad experience at a young age, and that fear can persist as they grow older. Some are afraid because they are claustrophobic or have a general feeling of unease being reclined in a chair with their personal space invaded and their mouth exposed.
Others are fearful of the noises made by the tools used by the dentist and hygienist. Still, others have a more serious fear and may suffer from dentophobia, which is a type of phobia that’s extreme enough to cause a person to avoid dental care even when it is necessary.
It’s a real fear that can be triggered by various things, from the smell of the dental office to a previous negative experience with a dentist or even a family member. It’s not something that should be dismissed, and the best way to overcome it is to work on understanding why you are nervous in the first place.
5. Reward Yourself
The dread that comes with visiting the dentist can have serious consequences for your oral health. In addition to causing you to avoid dental visits, this phobia can lead to gum disease, which is not only a painful condition, but it also increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to overcome your fear of the dentist.
Start by finding a dentist that you feel comfortable with. You can do this by asking friends and family for recommendations, or by reading reviews online. Once you’ve found a dentist that you trust, schedule an initial visit to get to know them. This will allow you to test out the chemistry between the two of you.
Once you’ve made it through your first appointment, reward yourself. Whether it’s with a new hobby, a special trip or a dinner out, this will help you to begin to associate visits to the dentist with positive experiences. It will also remind you that visiting the dentist is really only for your own benefit.