If you get anxious at the prospect of going to the dentist, it can mean you neglect your oral health. Although you might maintain a good hygiene routine by brushing twice daily; missing out on regular checkups may mean it’s often too late before you realise you have a problem with your teeth or gums.
When dental problems strike, even the worst toothache is sometimes not enough motivation to persuade a person with genuine dental phobia to get the help they need. Often, people with a fear of the dentist desperately need dental treatments that they just can’t face getting.
Dental problems will only get worse, so there comes a time when you’ll need to tackle your anxieties face on. But how do you do this when even the thought of walking into a dental clinic sends pangs of dread your way?
Here are some proven strategies for helping you overcome your dental phobia.
Is It Irrational To Fear the Dentist?
It’s easy to write your fears off as being silly or irrational. But they’re not. Your dental phobia will stem from somewhere, and that anxious feeling you’re met with when you think about going to the dentist is your body’s way of protecting you from a perceived danger.
You may have had a negative experience at the hands of a dentist at some point in your life. You may have had an illness or accident and you’ve needed uncomfortable treatments. Or, you may have picked up your fears at a young age from family members with phobias.
Whatever the cause of your anxiety, your dental phobia is real and is in no way something you should be expected to laugh off or “get over.”
Phobias often worsen over time, as will your oral health. In addition to feeling scared, you may also feel ashamed or embarrassed about the condition of your teeth.
Find a Dentist Who Understands
It’s important to understand that dentists want to help look after your teeth. That said, some are better than others when dealing with anxious patients. So, how do you find a dentist that you can trust?
Dental Phobia is an organisation that provides certification for dentists that are skilled and experienced in helping nervous patients. This handy database of dentists and practices will help you find a Dental Phobia-Certified dentist in your area.
The Dental Phobia certification means that a dentist has procedures to help you if you’re scared or anxious. They’ll have the patience and understanding needed to perform routine checkups and treatments in a way that makes you feel safe.
Understanding dentist will ask the right questions so they can adapt the way they work and take things at a pace you’re comfortable with.
Many Dental Phobia-Certified dentists also offer sedation dentistry to help you feel at ease during treatment.
Name Your Fears
If you’ve got dental anxiety, it can be helpful to pinpoint what you’re most frightened of. You may feel anxious about several things. These might include:
- The fear of dental drills or other tools and apparatus
- A general unease in clinical surroundings
- A phobia about not being in control
- Worries about gagging or choking
- Nervousness about experiencing pain
Talk About It
Once you know what you’re most scared of, tell your dentist what your fears are. If they know what is most likely to trigger anxious feelings or even panic attacks, they can avoid or minimise your exposure to them.
Fortunately, modern dentistry is constantly finding new ways to make treatments shorter, simpler, and less painful. If it’s been a few years since your last visit to the dentist, things may have improved, and the issue you’re most worried about might be easier to deal with now.
Put a Strategy In Place
Visiting the dentist when you’ve got dental phobia is a big step. Even with the support of a patient and friendly dentist, you’ll still experience considerable anxiety, and it’s possible you’ll have a panic attack.
Nobody knows better than you how you’ll feel. So it’s essential you consider this before your appointment and plan how you’ll calm yourself down if your anxiety does get the better of you.
It may help to take someone with you. Choose someone you trust. This could be a friend, family member, or a partner. They can reassure you and support you when needed. Most dentists are happy for nervous patients to take someone into the clinic with them.
Speak to your dentist about how you’ll let them know when your anxiety levels have risen. When you’re receiving dental treatment, it’s not always easy to speak. Not only this but when you’re experiencing panic, finding the words to communicate how you’re feeling can also be challenging. Using hand signals is a great way to let your dentist know you need to take a break.
Take something with you that you can listen to music on. Streaming your favourite songs while you’re in the chair can help distract you from what’s going on around you.
Practice a few breathing and relaxation techniques before your treatment. When you’re feeling anxious or panicked, taking long deep breaths can help calm you down.
Simiilarly, using grounding techniques to help you stay focused and present will help you keep anxious thoughts at bay. Systematically tensing and relaxing the muscles around your body is a great way to shift your attention away from what the dentist is doing.
Finally, ask about sedation options. Many dentists offer a range of sedation. When sedated, you’ll remain conscious; however, you won’t feel a thing – and you won’t be anxious or scared. Having a positive experience under sedation can help minimise worries about future appointments.
Sedation will make you feel drowsy, so always ensure you’ve got someone with you that can take you home after your appointment.
How to Fight Your Dental Phobia
Dental phobia isn’t something that should be brushed off lightly. Unfortunately, anxieties surrounding dental checkups and treatments can cause severe health issues. It’s important to take steps to overcome your fears.
With the support of a Dental Phobia Certified dentist, it’s possible to make your fears more manageable. Through repeated positive dental experiences, your fears may subside over time.
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