We all know the most common human fears – heights, death and creepy crawlies being just a few. Perhaps another fear also belongs on the list of common anxieties: modern dentistry.
Around 9 to 15 percent of Americans feel uneasy or anxious when it comes time to recline in the dental chair. Luckily, there are ways to quell your fears so you can maintain your oral health.
Why People Fear the Dentist
People have many different reasons for avoiding the dentist, including fear of:
- Drills and other dental tools
- Repeating bad experiences
- Perceived inability to leave the chair once the exam has begun
- Choking on rinses or saliva
- Feeling sick to their stomach
- Having someone’s hands in their mouth
- Shocking or offending the dentist with “bad” teeth
In some cases, these fears are irrational yet uncontrollable. Other times, they’re rooted in truth, but are overblown to the point of inducing panic – a phenomenon commonly known as “catastrophizing.”
Fortunately, it is possible to retrain your brain to help you get through your next dentist appointment with the following tricks.
Ways to Conquer Dental Fear
Find a Dentist You Trust
One of the biggest steps you can take to overcome your fear is finding a dentist you can trust. When you believe your dentist is highly qualified and has your best interests at heart, you will feel more open to communicating with them and expect less pain.
Verbalize Your Fear
Just like you should tell the phlebotomist if you feel like passing out during a blood draw, you should let your dentist know if you feel panic or physical pain at any point during your exam. If they know what’s happening in your mind, they can take steps to reduce your anxiety and help you feel as comfortable as possible.
Some patients feel better if they come up with a hand gesture or word to indicate they need a break from the exam. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to use it!
Ask for a Play-by-Play
Some patients like to know exactly what is going to happen to them before the exam begins. Others prefer a walk-through while it’s happening. Still, others would rather hear nothing at all because the thought of medication, tools and body parts makes them queasy. Be upfront with your dentist and let them know your preference ahead of time.
Letting the mind dwell on distressing situations often makes fear worse. Nip fear in the bud by showing up for your appointment with a form of distraction or entertainment. While you’re in the waiting room, you can play a game on your phone, listen to music or even read magazines the office has provided (they’re there for a reason!). Many offices have TVs mounted above the dental chairs so you can watch something throughout the exam.
Do Some Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises are a quick way to center yourself and push through anxiety. You can practice deep breathing at home and then use it in the waiting room or during the exam if your heart starts to race. If it helps, pair deep breathing with a meditation or nature sounds app.
If you need more intense relaxation before your appointment, try body scan meditation. In this method, you acknowledge and “let go” of each body part one by one until you feel calm again.
Give Yourself Time to Prepare and Relax
Nerves can be physically and emotionally draining, especially if you have an anxiety or panic attack during your appointment. While you shouldn’t go in expecting an attack, planning for such a possibility can help.
Reduce the chance of anxiety by setting yourself up for a good day before your appointment. Getting a good night’s sleep, eating breakfast foods that won’t irritate your stomach, practicing deep breathing, listening to soothing or upbeat music or even exercising can help.
After your appointment, allow yourself to decompress and reward yourself for conquering your fear. The reward could be as simple as treating yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant or watching your favorite show.
One Final Note About Dental Anxiety
These tips work best for patients experiencing low to moderate levels of anxiety. However, if you’re agonizing about your appointment weeks in advance or struggling to set foot in a dentist’s office, you may have a phobia or other anxiety disorder. Be sure to consult your primary care provider or a mental health professional if anxiety is disrupting your life.
Anxiety-Free Dentistry at Providence Dental Spa
If you’re looking for a cosmetic dentist you can trust, consider meeting with Dr. Jason Mann at Providence Dental Spa. He understands that many patients have dental anxiety and will respect those concerns by answering any questions you have about your exam or procedure.
At our practice, we also create a warm and inviting environment by offering:
- Spa services
- iHome headphones
- A beverage station, and
- Free Wi-Fi
Call us today at (478) 733-0857 to schedule your appointment.