No one really looks forward to a visit to the dentist, but statistics suggest that some 50% of Americans are actually so anxious about dental work that they put off seeking the care and treatment they need to keep their teeth and gums healthy. If you number among that 50%, don’t despair. For those people who cannot bear the pain, sedation dentistry such as IV (intravenous), oral, or sleep could be the only option. Here are some suggestions for people who are procrastinating about going to the dentist. Also will provide several ways to manage your fear and put dental phobia in its place.
What is Dentophobia?
Dentophobia is a fear of dentist. Dental fear is also called dental phobia, odontophobia, or dental anxiety. The most common causes of the fear are traumatic and painful experiences at an early age, humiliation by uncaring or insensitive dentists, post-traumatic stress, intrusive thoughts of the bad experience about dentists or dental treatment, and a history of abuse. People with dental phobias often experience various anxiety-related symptoms such as sweating, nausea, chest pain or pounding heart when they see a dentist. Not only does their dental health suffer but in extreme cases, it may lead to depression.
A 1984 Journal of the American Dental Association article entitled “Dental Fear and Avoidance: Causes, Symptoms, and Consequences,” explained: “For fear of early origin, the dentist’s professional behavior was most important, whereas for fear acquired in adult years, pain was important.”
What Scares You about the Dentist?
People fear dental visits for many different reasons. Some of the more common ones include:
- loss of control
- fear of needles/injections
- unpleasant sights and sounds (e.g., the noise of the drill)
- hyper-sensitive gag reflex
- fear of ridicule or disapproval from the dentist (e.g., over the condition of teeth)
Once you have identified your individual concern(s), it’s time for the next step.
Talk to the Dentist about Your Dental Phobia
Try To Find Phobic-Friendly Dentists
How to find a dental phobic-friendly dentist? “Ask around; contact the dental office and ask about how they feel about working with a fearful patient; and set up an appointment to meet with the dentist,” according to Paul Glassman, DDS and professor of dental practice at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, San Francisco, who has been running a program for fearful dental patients. “If the dentist seems genuinely interested in your fear and seems to want to work with you to help you get over it and get dental care, then that is a good start. If the dentist seems annoyed by your fear, or seems disinterested in working with you, then keep looking,” said Dr. Glassman.
There are many dentists who specialize in fearful patients. For instance, Dr. Jack Bynes, president of dentalfear.com, provides all sorts of information about dental phobia and care for fearful patients.
Make an appointment for a consultation with your dentist and come clean about your fears. Don’t worry about being ridiculed–most dentists are used to working with anxious patients and will do whatever they can to help you feel more comfortable.
If your dentist is not responsive to your fears, it may be time to change providers. Ask your friends for referrals, or look at dental ads in the Yellow Pages. Some dentists specifically advertise that they cater to clients with dental anxiety.
Assuming your dentist does take your concerns seriously, brainstorm with him or her to make office visits easier for you.
Possible Solutions to your Dental Phobia
If you are afraid of the pain of dental work, ask your dentist to describe what procedures you need and how any discomfort will be controlled. Agree in advance on a signal that you can use, such as raising your hand, to stop the procedure immediately if you feel pain.
If your fear is of needles and injections, ask your dentist to use a topical anesthetic so you won’t feel the needle go in. It also helps if your dentist gives the injection slowly to avoid the pressure of rapid fluid build up under the gums.
The sights and sounds of a dental office are enough to trigger fear for many people. It may help to cover your eyes with an eye pillow or dark-tinted glasses and listen to music or a favorite television program through headphones.
If loss of control is your chief issue, ask your dentist to take things slowly and explain step by step what he or she is doing. Again, agree on a signal you can use to stop the procedure if you become overwhelmed. It may also help to ask the dentist to recline your chair as little as possible–some people feel anxiety when they are forced to lean back at an extreme angle.
Finally, many dentists are willing to provide mild sedation to help you relax. This practice is known as sedation dentistry. The sedation may come in the form of an inhaled gas (usually nitrous oxide or “laughing gas”), oral medication, or in more extreme cases of anxiety, IV medication.
Help for Dental Anxiety: The Relaxation Response
Another way you can help make your next dental appointment easier is to practice relaxation before your appointment. Pick a time when you are not rushed or pressured. Sit or lie down comfortably. Then focus on your feet. Make the muscles as tense as you can, then let all the tension flow away as you relax. Do the same thing with your legs and continue through all the major muscle groups of your body. This is known as progressive relaxation.
When you are completely relaxed, visualize yourself getting in the car to go to your dental appointment. As soon as you notice any tension in your body, stop the visualization and relax again. When you are relaxed, continue with the visualization. Over several sessions, and taking time to relax as often as needed, imagine yourself reaching the dentist’s office, getting out of the car, entering the office, checking in at the front desk, sitting down in the chair, etc.
The idea is to train your body to relax rather than to tense up when you think of going to the dentist. The more you can relax during your appointment, the more the interventions you and your dentist have put in place will help.
Let’s face it, going to the dentist will probably never be your favorite activity. But if you recognize your fears, talk them out with your dentist, and work on teaching yourself relaxation techniques, your dental appointments will be far more bearable in the future.
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