If the mere mention of the word “dentist” makes you tense, you’re not alone. As many as 20% of Americans have said they avoid going to the dentist altogether due to anxiety or fear. Fortunately, there are many different ways to deal with dental anxiety or dental phobia (which results in even deeper panic than dental anxiety). With a little effort, those fears can be overcome – and your health doesn’t have to suffer.
Experts agree that acknowledging the cause of one’s dental anxiety or dental phobia is the best first step toward overcoming it.
Causes of dental anxiety or dental phobia
Commonly-reported reasons why people have dental anxiety or dental phobia include the following:
Previous bad experiences. An insensitive dentist or a scary memory from a childhood dental visit or embarrassment over dental issues can build up steam over time to create debilitating dental anxiety.
Powerlessness. Lying down in a chair and allowing someone to probe around your mouth without being able to see what’s going requires an enormous amount of trust. There’s no denying we have very little control over what happens once the dentist starts an examination of our mouths.
Scary anecdotes. Everybody’s heard a nightmare story or two about dental visits gone horribly wrong. They tend to spring to mind just as you’re reclining in the dental chair, don’t they?
Fear of pain. This seems to be universal. Unexpected pain is commonly known as a “bummer.”
Often our dental anxiety or phobia overshadows the reality that neglecting dental health can lead to grave consequences. Increasingly, medical science points to a connection between oral health and overall body health. If we’re to maintain a healthy body, dental anxiety and dental phobia cannot be allowed to stand in the way.
Tips for dealing with dental anxiety or dental phobia
Here are five tips for making headway against dental anxiety or dental phobia:
1. Communicate. Talk to your dentist about your concerns. Remember that a dentist is a trained professional. You aren’t the first patient to come in with dental phobia. Working with your dentist on your anxieties can take the pressure off trying to manage them alone. Just the act of expressing verbally what’s been locked in your head can lighten the load too.
2. Relax. Practicing some form of deep breathing or meditative exercise like yoga is a great way to put your body ahead of your mind. If your body is relaxed, it’s very difficult for your mind to be anxious.
3. Distract yourself. Often, the sounds of a dentist’s office are enough to get one’s mind racing. Drills, sounds from other examination rooms, and general office conversation can trigger anxious thoughts. Many dentists now offer their patients mp3 players loaded with a wide selection of music or audio entertainment to shut out the auditory stimulus that fuels dental phobia.
4. Plan. Try to schedule your dental appointments at times when you won’t be otherwise under pressure. Squeezing an exam between meetings or during a short lunch will only serve to put the pressure on.
5. Sedation. Finally, you can always discuss sedation options with your dentist. Various sedatives offer a range of choices, from light relaxation to completely putting you under for the duration of your visit.
Dental anxiety and dental phobia is very common. No one needs to go through it alone. Acknowledge the fear, talk it out, and above all, put your dental health above your anxieties. The resulting smile is worth it.
Have you overcome dental phobia? How did you tame your anxiety? We’d love to hear your story!
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