Let’s be honest: not many people enjoy going to the dentist. Many people grumble about their preventive and restorative dental care appointments, and some even avoid them altogether. In fact, more than 80 percent of American adults have some fear of the dentist and nearly 25 percent of Americans are so fearful that they avoid their dental check-ups unless they’re in pain. Unfortunately, this fear and avoidance can do damage to your oral health. Here, we take a look at what dental phobia is and ways to deal with it so you – and your oral health – don’t suffer.
What is dental phobia?
Dental phobia can be referred to as dental fear, odontophobia, dentophobia, or dental anxiety. Psychologically, it’s a general fear of dentistry, being in a dental office, or receiving dental care. Even a mild dislike of dental care can lead to anxiety, which can cause a person to avoid dental care. When the anxiety heightens to a point where it affects an individual’s decisions to maintain their own health, he or she may experience dental phobia.
Several factors can trigger heightened anxiety, and an individual can experience one or more of these factors simultaneously. Many of these stressors can be found in a dental office. These include the smells of dental compounds (especially strong-odored medicaments like eugenol and bleach), seeing dental instruments (especially needles and forceps), and hearing the tools of the dental office (such as the drill). Patients can associate these sensory responses with previous dental experiences, especially if those experiences were negative and left a strong impression earlier in life.
What are ways to deal with dental phobia?
Dental phobia doesn’t have to derail your oral health. Here are some ways to deal with your dental anxiety so you can get the care that you need:
- Tell your dentist about your anxiety and create a strategy. Some patients feel better if the dentist tells them what is happening at every step of the process. Other patients prefer to have the dentist talk about something other than the work that is being done. Listening to a calming voice talk about the ballgame that was on last night could help distract you.
- Establish a signal for when you need a break. Let the dentist know if you raise your hand, it means you need him/her to stop for a minute.
- Listen to music. Bring an iPod and headphones, close your eyes, and concentrate on your favorite songs instead of the sounds of the dentist’s office.
- Bring a friend. It can help to know you have someone you trust sitting in the waiting room and keeping you calm.
- Wear your own sunglasses. Typically, your dentist will supply protective eyewear, but the one-size-fits-all model may not be comfortable for you.
- Have something to hold. Kids may want to cuddle a teddy bear. Adults may choose to have a worry stone, a stress relief ball or a hand grip to squeeze during treatment.
- Picture yourself somewhere else. Visualization techniques such as imagining you’re on the beach watching the waves can help relax you.
- Silently repeat a mantra. You know how people always say think good thoughts? It’s true. Telling yourself simple mantras like “I am okay” or “I am safe” can help keep you calm.
- Consider medication. Before your appointment, call your dentist about your fears and discuss whether you should take a prescription. Make sure you follow your dentist’s instructions regarding any medication.
- Consider sedation dentistry. In extreme cases, there are some patients whose anxiety has reached the tipping point. In these cases, talk to your dentist about whether anesthesia may be the best option.
How can I lessen my dental phobia?
The best way to avoid experiencing dental phobia is with preventative oral care. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings are always important to keeping your mouth healthy. But, it’s the oral care at home that can keep you from needing more complicated procedures. Whether or not you have a fear of the dentist, brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss at least once daily, and limit sugary snacks between your main courses. These preventative measures can help maintain a healthy mouth in between regular check-ups. As you and your dentist work to make those routine visits stress-free, it won’t take long until intense fears and distress start to lessen. And, as each dental appointment becomes easier, your teeth and gums will become healthier, too.
If you have any questions about dental phobia, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.