Are you afraid of the dentist? If so, you’re not alone. According to Stats Canada, around 40 percent of the population has a strong fear of the dentist. While very few people look forward to taking a seat in the dentist’s chair, some have a fear so paralyzing that it prevents them from getting the dental care they need. Without proper preventative cleanings, they eventually develop serious issues that lead to pain or lost teeth. Fortunately, you have several options available for dealing with a fear of the dentist so you can get the necessary care your mouth needs.
Why Are Some People Scared of the Dentist?
While there are a variety of reasons why someone may be afraid of the dentist, you’ll usually find four common causes for the anxiety.
- Past Experience: Most patients develop a fear of the dentist because of a bad experience they had in the past. If patients have a previous treatment that had complications or was painful, they might begin to worry that all visits will be like that, and they’ll decide not to go to the dentist again.
- Pain: No one wants to experience physical pain. Some patients might worry that a trip to the dentist, with all the unusual and sharp tools, might result in pain.
- Embarrassment: Some patients might feel embarrassed if their teeth or gums aren’t in good shape. Unfortunately, this turns into a catch-22 situation. Patients avoid going to the dentist because they’re worried they have bad teeth and cavities, yet not getting the cleanings they need could result in actual cavities that harm their teeth
- Lack of Control: Other patients develop dental anxieties because of the lack of control they feel when they’re reclined in the dentist’s chair. Having a hygienist or dentist examining their mouth could just amply this fear.
Be Honest About Your Dental Phobia
The first step in dealing with your fear of the dentist is being honest with yourself and your dentist about these worries. Dentists understand that these fears are real, and they won’t dismiss your fears or judge you. Instead, they’ll work with you to come up with a plan that will help you feel more relaxed during your appointment. Luckily, you have several options you can try.
One practice for dealing with your fear that you can review with your dentist is sedation dentistry. Some dentists can administer sedatives in their office to help keep you calm and relaxed during your visit. Sedatives can include a local anesthetic, oral or intravenous sedation, or nitrous oxide (better known as laughing gas). Not all dentists are qualified to administer every sedative, so you’ll want to speak with your dentist to determine which one might work best for you.
Bring a Distraction
Distractions are often a good way to help divert your attention away from the procedure. Some dentists have televisions in the treatment room so patients can watch something as a distraction. If your dentist doesn’t have this, you still have a variety of options available. Consider bringing headphones and a music player so you can listen to music. Even better, make it a new album so you’ll be concentrating more on the new songs that you haven’t heard before. You can also use a stress ball or run through mental exercises, like counting by three or going over state capitals.
Have Someone Come With You
Having a close friend or family member who doesn’t have any fear about seeing the dentist can often provide some extra comfort and support to help you through your appointments. If possible, see if your friend or family member can keep you company during the procedure. Oftentimes, simply having someone there who understands your feelings can give you all the reassurance you need. Also, try to get one of the first appointments of the day. That way, you won’t spend the entire day worrying about your trip to the dentist.
Try Self-Regulation Techniques
Self-regulation techniques can help you stay calm during dental treatments. One popular relaxation technique to try is deep breathing. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then let it out very slowly to relax your muscles and slow your heartbeat. Meditation can also slow your heartbeat. Consider practising a few weeks before your appointment so you can use this technique to calm your nerves when you’re in the dentist chair.
Look for Therapeutic Support
If your fear is so intense that none of the previous techniques work, you can also turn to therapeutic support. Hypnotherapy has worked for some patients. Additionally, you can sign up for counselling sessions with psychologists who specialize in addressing phobias.
Having a fear of the dentist shouldn’t prevent you from getting the care you need. Instead, try these best practices so you can deal with your dental anxiety.