Between 9% and 15% of Americans are avoiding seeing their dentist due to fear and anxiety. That’s almost 40 million people who are risking their oral health due to dental anxiety.
Many people put off their dental visits until they have a bad toothache or an emergency like a dental abscess. This behavior can be a vicious circle, with dental patients becoming even more afraid since emergency treatment is often more traumatic.
If you’re terrified of the dentist, we can help. This guide will break down everything you need to know about your fear and how you can manage it when you’re in the dentist’s chair.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Why Are People Afraid of the Dentist?
Everyone has certain phobias and fears. Some of us can’t stand snakes, while others are scared of heights. In most cases, fears can be avoided. If you don’t like heights, it’s easy to avoid standing at the top of tall buildings.
There are a few occasions where fears and phobias can be actively doing you harm. Dentistry is one of these areas. While many people get anxious or scared at the thought of a dentist appointment, the alternative can be serious problems with your teeth and gums.
Our mouths are a vulnerable part of our bodies. We have deep biological survival mechanisms which teach us to avoid pain at all costs. Reclining back in a dental chair can often cause feelings of helplessness. Some people have had a bad experience at the dentist in the past, which intensifies these feelings.
Studies have shown that people who are terrified of going to the dentist actually have marked differences in their brain responses compared to people who are unconcerned about the visit.
For many people, dental anxiety is formed during childhood. Over the last few decades, dentistry has evolved substantially and rapidly. Today, there are many different technologies and techniques that make most appointments completely painless.
There are also a number of things you can do to manage your dental anxiety. Keep reading to learn what they are.
Managing Dental Anxiety
Everyone needs to visit the dentist at some point in their lives. Dental anxiety can prevent you from accessing basic dental care like checkups and teeth cleaning, which can lead to more serious problems down the line.
Here are some top ways to manage your dental anxiety:
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Therapy doesn’t mean seeing a therapist or telling a counselor your life story. Although, this is a definite option if you feel like you’ll need professional help managing your anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be done on your own. It’s based on the idea that certain situations plus our automatic thoughts equal our reactions. This is often a cyclical equation, as reactions reaffirm those thoughts, and those thoughts make some situations (like visiting the dentist) even more challenging.
Here’s how you can use cognitive behavioral therapy:
Identify Your Thought
This might be “I think the dentist will cause me pain.”
Question Your Thought
Is this thought absolutely true? For example, you may assume that a root canal is painful, but if you haven’t had a root canal, you don’t know this for sure.
How do you react when you 100% believe this thought? You probably get sweating palms, a racing heart, and feel increasingly anxious.
How different would your life be without this thought?
You’d probably be much calmer, and you’d be more willing to go to the dentist.
Turn the Thought Around
Instead of thinking “The dentist will cause me pain.” Try changing it to “I’m not scared that the dentist will cause me pain.”
Turn each thought around every time you have them. This will make you feel much more in control in the lead up to your dentist visit.
2. Finding the Right Dentist
Some dentists are simply better than others when it comes to managing dental anxiety. It’s important that you find a dentist that’s experienced with your fear. They should be willing to discuss your anxiety openly so they can help you overcome your fear and find the best measures to keep you calm throughout your appointment.
A good dentist will talk with you about what bothers you. That way they’ll understand what not to do during your visit. Telling your dentist about any difficulties or experiences you had during your past dental visits will help them create a treatment plan for you.
3. Medications and Products
There are many new products and medications available to help reduce pain and anxiety.
Topical dental patches and anesthetic gels can numb your gums and keep you comfortable during deep cleanings and injections. Nitrous oxide can help relax you during more involved procedures. You can even use intravenous conscious sedation which keeps you awake but eases pain and discomfort.
One of the most disconcerting parts of visiting the dentist is hearing the noise of the drill and seeing the of the tools used. There are many ways you can distract yourself during your appointment.
Listen to music, an audiobook, or an amusing podcast to take your mind off your fear. You may even want to bring a sleep mask to help you block out what’s going on around you. Distract your hands with a toy or stress ball. Keeping your hands moving will help release your anxiety. You may also want to try a soothing scent of lavender or vanilla.
Hypnosis allows you to control or ‘quiet’ your conscious mind. When you have dental anxiety, the perception that you’re going to be harmed is the hardest factor to overcome. But hypnosis has been proven to be an effective way to overcome dental phobias.
Hypnosis helps us achieve a state where we’re more readily able to access our subconscious minds. From there, they can give us suggestions that help us visualize what you’re hoping to accomplish. There are many hypnotists specializing in dental fear.
As you can see, anxiety doesn’t need to stop you from going to the dentist. The above techniques can help you manage this anxiety and ensure you have healthy teeth and gums.
Need to visit the dentist? Get in touch today for an appointment time that suits you.