A fear of the dentist is common. Millions of people suffer from dental phobia. Study show numbers as high as 25% of the population of North America suffers from fear of the dentist. Most people who find out that they are not alone are shocked to see how common this phobia really is. Often an upsetting childhood dental experience has lasting effects into adulthood. Sometimes people “inherit” fears from parents, whose experiences with dentists may have been traumatic.
It should not be forgotten that a fear of the dentist plays in your mental and emotional states; it can affect your business and your social life. It is very common for people suffering from dental phobia to miss their dental appointments. They will come up with any reason to miss it. The problem with this is that without proper dental treatment the problem with your teeth will only get worse; ending needing root canals and extractions, not to mention getting gum disease.
What you can do to minimize or eliminate a fear of the dentist:
Communication. This means the way your dentist interacts with you (and the way you interact with your dentist). You need to feel at ease with your dentist if you want to overcome your fears, and your dentist needs to know what you fear and how they may be able to help you. Communication also means things like rapport, where you don’t perceive your dentist as a threatening or a condescending figure, but as a partner in your care. Also using non-threatening language that you can understand. Communication means that you do things together with your dentist, rather than your dentist doing things to you.
Many dentists lack the patience to treat fearful patients with the care they deserve. Even those who advertise that they “cater to cowards” may not do a good job of it. You want someone who is interested in you as a person, rather than as just another set of teeth. They also need to have the necessary people skills. If you’re looking for a new dentist, being honest about your fears from the first call. Ask to speak to the dentist about your fears before you come in.
It is not necessary to look for a dentist who is a “phobia expert”. There is no dental phobia specialty; plus, personality is the most crucial variable. Some dentists just have a “knack” for putting people at ease.
- Talk to people you know about their dentists to find one who is sympathetic. Schedule an office visit to meet the dentist without doing any dental work. This will give you an opportunity to evaluate the office. Be prepared to pay for the dentist’s time. If the office finds this a strange request, move on — this is not the dentist for you. Go to that first visit with someone you trust, such as a close relative who has no fear of dentist. You can even have that person to sit with you during treatment.
- Seek distraction while in the dentist’s chair. Listen to your own music on headphones –something that brings you comfort and you can enjoy. You can even have your dentistry done in a candle lit room. (Our patients have commented that this helps with calming their fears both because of the scent and the calming effect of candle itself).
- Try relaxation techniques like controlled breathing — take a big breath, hold it, and let it out very slowly, like you are a leaky tire. This will slow your heartbeat and relax your muscles. Another technique is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in turn.
- Your dentist should have a stop signal; “raise your left hand if you need me to stop for any reason”
If you need to take breaks in between your treatment, make sure you communicate that with your dentist.
- Envision how you would like your appointment to go and meditate on a positive experience rather than the “what
- if’s” Envision how wonderful it will be to have a beautiful, healthy smile.
- Think positive! Remember–when you get through this, you will prove to yourself you are a strong person, who takes care of your body. –and don’t forget to reward yourself!
Many dentists also help reduce patient’s fear of dentist through the use of drugs. This is great for people who can not seem to get over their fears even with the steps above. Your dentist can prescribe you to take a sleeping pill for the night before if you are so anxious that you can’t fall asleep. Your dentist can also prescribe a sedative that you take an hour before your appointment to keep you calm. Someone will have to drive you to the office if you are sedated.
Be careful when websites state that they have “the” solution for dental anxiety, and “the” solution is sedation dentistry (or twilight sleep, or sleep dentistry). Sedation on its own won’t help with overcoming dental fears. It should be used in addition to good communication and psychological techniques, not as a replacement.
Avoid large dental chains. The dentists there have to work to meet a quota, and these chains don’t have the best interests of either dentists or patients at heart.
There are many techniques dentists can use to make the injection painless. The dentist can use topical anesthetics, anesthetic mouth rinses, Novocain adhesive patches and other techniques to insure that you experience no discomfort when getting the injection. There is even a computerized injection device that delivers the Novocain with little discomfort for those dentist who just can’t do the injection process slow enough so not to hurt the patient.
By Ladan Zinati