Dentists are a friendly bunch, so it’s surprising to learn that around half of the UK population has a dental phobia according to statistics from the Oral Health Foundation.
Even more surprising is that dental phobia beats fear of heights, snakes and the zombie apocalypse to take number-one spot on the nation’s list of scaries.
Around 12% of cases of dental phobia are acute enough to prevent dentist visits altogether, and that’s a real problem when it comes to maintaining good oral health and avoiding unnecessary aches and pains.
Dr Kailash Solanki, a dentist at Manchester’s Kiss Dental, has witnessed firsthand the impact phobias can have on oral health. “The story is all-too-familiar. I’ve often seen patients whose teeth have lapsed into a woeful state because they’re too afraid to visit,” he explains.
“This can be a vicious circle, as the increasing complexity of treatment needed to rectify problems as time goes by only serves to increase fears.”
Fellow dentist Dr Kalpesh Bohara of East Midlands-based Dental Suite agrees. He adds that while it is vital for professionals to recognise the validity of patients’ anxieties, the fears sometimes prove to be overblown. “I’ve treated patients who’d put off visiting for decades based on one bad experience or – worse – a fear of techniques and equipment that haven’t been used in ages,” he said.
“When these patients see how dentistry and attitudes to anxious patients have changed in recent years, they’re amazed. The experience is often enough to dispel fears and restart regular visits.”
For those who suffer from severe dental phobia, the advice of Drs Solanki and Bohara may sound like a textbook case of easier-said-than-done. But there is hope. Following just a few simple steps could be all it takes to banish dental anxiety for good.
Clinical dental technician with Changing Faces, Marc Northover has seen his fair share of neglected smiles. Changing Faces provides denture replacements for teeth, often as a last resort when oral health is too far gone to be fixed by general dentistry techniques.
Marc said: “By the time phobic patients visit Changing Faces, they could be in the position of needing a full set of replacements for severely decayed teeth, so we see the very worst effects of anxiety. However, we also regularly see patients overcome their fears. With a little bravery and help from staff at the clinic, it’s definitely possible!”
We asked Kailesh, Kalpesh and Marc to share their top tips for defeating dental phobia and getting oral health back on track. Read on to hear their recommendations.
Find the Right Dentist
If your dentist strokes a long-haired white cat and laughs maniacally during treatment, it’s time to find a dentist who’s willing to use their powers for good. Fortunately, there are plenty around, many of whom specialise in treating phobic patients. Head over to the dental phobia website to book an appointment with a phobia-friendly dentist in your area. You can also ask around with family and friends to get a recommendation from someone you trust.
Know Your Enemy
No, not your dentist! Try to find out what exactly gives you the willies. It could be that you’re afraid of the drill or the needle used to administer anaesthetic. Would it put your mind at rest to learn neither of these will be used during your upcoming general checkup? Knowing the source of fears can also help you to start a conversation about how your dentist can help make treatment more pleasant.
Easy Does it
If it’s been a while since you last had treatment, start off slowly with a checkup or hygiene visit before heading off for root canal surgery. This approach will help you build a rapport with your dentist. You may even make a friend for life!
A Problem Shared…
Taking a friend along to your appointment is a great way to ease nerves. Most dentists won’t mind you bringing a bestie, just as long as they behave.
Ditch Needless Needles
Fear of needles? In many cases, injected anaesthetics can be substituted for a topical gel. Once again, talking to your dentist to let them know your concerns is critical here.
You Were Saying?
When it comes to taking your mind off treatment, distraction is your friend. Some people like to solve puzzles, while others play games on their phone or listen to music on headphones. Don’t worry – your dentist won’t think it’s rude. Stress balls, fidget spinners, magazines and other distractions are also all fair game.
I Wanna be Sedated
Yes, it’s perfectly fine to ask. Many dentists, especially those who specialise in dealing with phobic or anxious patients, now offer gentle sedation for the simplest procedures.
Open Wide, Say OM!
Meditation, mindfulness and calming breathing exercises can work wonders in the battle against everyday anxiety, and the same is true for dental angst. You needn’t attain zen master-level enlightenment to feel the benefits either – a quick five-minute exercise is often all it takes to dispel dental dread.
Talk to a Professional
If dental phobia continues even after following the steps in our guide, it could be time to talk to an anxiety specialist. Counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy could arm you with the coping mechanism needed to get past your fear once and for all, as well as getting to the root cause of anxiety.
If you’ve followed the advice so far, you should be well on your way to repairing dental relations. There’s still something you can do after treatment to make the experience more palatable. Treating yourself to a reward can help rebuild positive associations and help make each visit feel like less of a chore. And besides, do you really need an excuse to finally take that long, lazy lunch hour?
Post provided by dentalphobia