Are you one of the 9 to 20% of Americans who skip the dentist because of fear or anxiety?
Fear of the dentist can make you feel nervous, uneasy, unable to sleep, and physically ill. Dental phobia is even worse. It can cause panic and leave you feeling terrified.
Dental anxiety comes from fear of pain, injections, or side effects of anesthetics. Other people feel helpless in the dental chair. Still, others feel embarrassed about their teeth.
But giving into those fears can negatively impact your dental health. In the U.S., 26.5% of adults have untreated cavities and 47.2% have untreated periodontal disease.
Learning to deal with anxiety over the dentist can prevent your dental health from declining.
Keep reading to learn tips for handling your fear of the dentist.
Explore Your Dental Anxiety
Thinking about the dentist makes you anxious or panicky. How do you deal with those feelings? Do you shove them down and avoid them?
Next time you feel the panic, explore what’s causing them. What specifically causes fear? Are you worried about pain, the drill, the dentist needle, or something else?
Write down your thoughts on the dentist. Note how you feel and what worries you. This exercise makes it easier to talk about your fears to your dentist or mental health professional.
Looking at the root causes can help you deal with them yourself. If you’re worried about paying for the dental care, you might look into payment plan options. If you’re scared about the pain, you can discuss options for numbing agents with your dentist.
Choose Your Dentist Wisely
Does your dentist make your fears worse? Or are you looking for a regular dentist?
The dentist you choose can help ease your fears or increase them. Look for a provider like this dentist who focuses on providing a pleasant experience from caring staff.
A provider who is compassionate and listens to your fears instead of brushing them off can make the process easier.
Ask other people you know for dental referrals to start your list. Meeting the staff and dentist before you start treatment helps you decide if it’s a good match. You can also check out the office to see if the environment makes you feel relaxed or stressed.
Talk to Your Dentist
Don’t hide your dental fears. Talk to the dental hygienist and dentist before they start treatment. If you choose a compassionate provider, they can help ease your fears and make you feel comfortable.
This conversation also gives the dental staff the chance to explain what’s happening. Knowing what to expect can eliminate some of the worries you’ve created in your head.
The dentist may have some methods of making the treatments less stressful. Knowing that you have those fears is important so the dental staff can make those accommodations.
Ask as many questions as necessary to feel comfortable. Many people feel less anxious by knowing what’s coming.
It’s also a good idea to create a signal with your dentist in case you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can’t always speak up in the middle of a procedure. Agree to raise your hand if you need a break.
Schedule Your Appointment Early
The timing of your dental appointment can affect your anxiety. Scheduling first thing in the morning gives you less time to think about what you’re doing. You won’t build your fears all day as you wait for the appointment.
Prep yourself for the next day by getting a good night’s sleep. Limit other commitments that morning so you can cut down on your overall stress.
Use Relaxation Techniques
Meditation or breathing exercises may help you reduce your dental fears before and during your appointment. Practice controlling your breath by breathing in deeply and blowing out slowly.
Progressively relaxing your muscles can also help. Continue working through your body to relax various groups of muscles.
Guided imagery helps distract your mind from the situation by imagining something soothing. You might think about a calming place or experience that makes you feel less stressed. Focus on that image to make you feel less anxious.
Bring Comfort Items or Distractions
What helps you handle anxiety in other situations? Some of those same comforting techniques or distractions may help you at the dentist.
If you don’t like the sounds of the equipment, listen to music in headphones during the treatment. It blocks out sounds, and the music can cause your brain to release dopamine, which makes you feel happier. That combination may make your dental fear easier to handle.
Having a trusted friend or family member by your side can help calm your fears. Choose someone who isn’t afraid of the dentist. Consider who makes you feel more relaxed and who will be supportive.
Pack a small item that brings you comfort, such as a stuffed animal or soft piece of fabric. A stress ball or small item you can fidget with can also help distract you.
Some dentists have TV screens where patients can view them. Look for a dentist with this feature if you think it might help.
Ease Into Treatments
Arrive at your appointment early so you’re not rushed and stressed already. Getting there early helps you become familiar with the surroundings. You can practice your relaxation techniques early, so you’re ready when it’s your appointment time.
Ask your dentist if you can start with a simple procedure first. If you’re extremely fearful of the dentist, that could be as simple as sitting in the chair and letting the dentist look in your mouth.
Work up to actual treatments once you feel comfortable with that. Those early easy appointments can help you overcome your fears, so more complicated treatments are easier.
Discuss Sedation Options
If your dental anxiety is still too much, you may have the option to be sedated during procedures. Discuss the option to get anti-anxiety medicine or sedation before your appointment. Dentists have various sedation options, which may help you
Take Care of Your Teeth
Overcoming your dental anxiety lets you get the dental care you need to keep your teeth healthy. You’ll feel more confident with healthy, straight teeth and a cavity-free smile.
Are you ready to take charge of your health in other ways? Explore more health and fitness posts now.