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Dealing with dental anxiety

Dental anxiety may cause people to neglect their dental health.

Dental anxiety may cause people to neglect their dental health.

We hear it all the time - “I hate the dentist.” If you shudder at the thought of a dental appointment, here are some ways to help cope and ease your fear of dental treatment.

Dental phobia is incredibly common. An estimated nine to 15 percent of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of fear or anxiety. Patients often refer to previous negative experiences, physical pain or discomfort during dental treatment or embarrassment of dental condition as reasons why they avoid visiting the dentist.

Signs of dental phobia include:

  • Feeling tense or having trouble sleeping the night before a dental exam
  • Becoming increasingly nervous when in the waiting room
  • Feeling like crying when you think of going to the dentist
  • Being anxious at the sight of dental tools or instruments
  • Panicking or having trouble breathing when objects are placed in your mouth during your dental appointment

Learning how to cope with dental fear can help you feel more comfortable during your visit. If you suffer from dental phobia at any level, here are some techniques that can help you feel more comfortable during your visit

  1. Let us know
    Communicating any feelings or unease you have about visiting the dentist or having dental procedures performed is vital to helping us learn how best to care for you. Talking to your dentist about what makes you feel alarmed or uncomfortable allows us to be aware and adapt our procedures to make you more comfortable. 
  2. Bring items to help you relax
    Grab a pair of headphones or your favorite sweatshirt before coming to your appointment to ensure you will be cozy and feeling your best during dental treatment. If you are particularly bothered by the sounds of dental equipment or drilling noises, headphones and music can help block some of the sounds that alarm you. If you don’t have headphones, feel free to ask the doctor or dental assistant to select music you like or turn the television channel to something you enjoy.
  3. Relaxation techniques
    Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation and meditation may help you feel more at ease before or during your visit. (Here’s a fun visual for deep breathing.
  4. Give yourself plenty of time for your appointment
    Running late or dealing with traffic prior to your visit may have a negative effect on your mindset when you arrive at the dental office. Similarly, not setting aside enough time for your appointment and having to worry about how long the appointment is lasting may add worry or distress.
  5. Ask your doctor for a sedative
    For longer procedures, ask your doctor if sedation methods would benefit you. We administer nitrous oxide or “laughing gas,” which is a safe and effective method of conscious sedation. While administered, nitrous gas is mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a small mask that fits over your nose to help you relax. For more severe nerves or anxiety, your doctor may recommend an oral sedative to take prior to your appointment. 
  6. Seek therapy
    Those who neglect their oral health because they cannot bear to visit the dentist may want to seek professional help in order to learn methods and techniques designed to help with dental phobia. 

By Meredith Powers; Sources: Colgate 1, 2