Thursday, August 13, 2020

How To Overcome A Fear Of The Dentist

 You know that going to the dentist is very important for your health, but it doesn’t stop you feeling scared and nervous before you go. It’s common to feel a little nervous before a trip to the dentist, but it isn’t normal, or healthy, to be so afraid that it stops you from going. Serious anxiety about the dentist prevents a lot of people from taking proper care of their teeth. Skipping the dentist can cause dental pain, lost teeth, gum disease, and more serious infections. But what causes this fear and what can you do to overcome it?


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The Cause

Some people are so afraid that they avoid the dentist altogether, whereas will put it off unless absolutely necessary. 


For many people, a bad experience with a dentist is the root cause of fear. For others, a fear of dentists is a side effect of separate issues, such as mood or anxiety disorders, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress, and other conditions. 


Being afraid of going to the dentist usually doesn’t stem much from experiencing pain, but more from feeling out of control while in the dentist’s chair. You’re lying in a prone position with a dentist leaning over you, unable to really talk or respond. This creates a sense of anxiety because you don’t feel in control of the situation. 


Sometimes, fear is accidentally created by the dentist themself. Some dentists assume all patients have similar pain thresholds and will handle all dental procedures in the same way. If these dentists were more careful with pain control and made sure their patients were comfortable, there would probably be fewer people scared of the dentist. 


Treating Fear Of Dentists

Some dentists specialize in treating fearful patients, so you can look for one of those. These dentists are extra careful to make their office a nonthreatening environment. This might mean designing offices that don’t look much like dental surgeries, using soothing photography or music, and not displaying standard dental care posters. Sometimes the dentist themselves will favour more casual clothing instead of scrubs. The sights, sounds, and smells of a typical dental surgery can be scary, so removing those triggers can help immensely. Look for a dentist who understands and who makes you feel in control. The ideal dentist for a scared patient will:

  • Gently and clearly explain what the patient will feel, and for how long

  • Frequently ask the patient for their permission to continue

  • Give the patient the opportunity to stop the procedure at any time the patient feels uncomfortable and will arrange a cue to signal this request

  • Make time for breaks, if needed


If you’re looking for a new dentist, be honest about your fear from the beginning and see how they respond. Just because a dentist claims to be good with fearful patients, it doesn’t mean they are. Ask to speak to the dentist before you go in for your first appointment. If the receptionist is dismissive of this request, or the dentist never calls you back, then it isn’t the right place for you. 


No matter how worried you are, it’s likely that the dentist won’t be as painful as you’re scared it will be. When surveyed before and after major procedures like root canals or wisdom tooth extraction, most patients report anticipating a lot more pain than they actually experienced. 


Despite knowing this, you might still be afraid of going into the dentist’s chairs. If this is the case, there are some tricks that you can try to help you relax. 

  • Ask someone you trust to come with you for the first visit to a new dentist. This should be someone who has no fear of the dentist. Ask if this friend can sit with you during your treatment. 

  • Look for distractions while you’re in the dentist’s chair. Take headphones and listen to music or an audiobook. Find a dentist who has a TV for patients to watch in the chair. 

  • Try relaxation techniques. Controlled breathing can work well. Take a deep breath, hold it in, then let it out very slowly. This slows your heartbeat and relaxes your muscles. You could also try progressive muscle relaxation, which is when you tense and relax different muscle groups in succession. 

  • Ask your dentist about sedation. There may be sedatives that are available and appropriate for you, such as local anaesthetic, nitrous oxide (known as laughing gas), oral sedatives, and intravenous sedation. Oversedation can be dangerous, but if you need a procedure and really can’t face it, it can help. 

  • See the dentist at a less busy time, such as during the morning. There will be fewer people, so less noise of dental tools from other rooms. Your dentist is also more likely to have more time to put you at ease and let you take breaks than they will later in the day, when they may be running behind on their appointments. The later you go in the day, the more time you have to let your worries build up too. 

  • If you’re really struggling to force yourself to visit the dentist, then see a psychologist. Treating a dentist phobia is much like other phobias, and is often helped by direct therapeutic exposure. This means you will be introduced to feared items, such as dental tools, in a controlled, gradual, non-threatening manner. 


Like many other worries, it can also be very effective to talk about how you feel with someone who understands. There are support forums online for those who fear the dentist where you can speak to like-minded people. Make sure you use this as a resource to get support and suggestions for coping, not to frighten yourself more with other people’s dental horror stories and fears. 


You can also try anti-anxiety medications. This won’t treat your fear of the dentist but can help you to cope with your fear long enough to get through an appointment. It can also ease physical symptoms of fear, like high blood pressure. If you do decide to try medication, make sure you tell your dentist at the start of your appointment, in case they need to give you something which will interact with your medication. 


Fear Or Phobia

Fears and phobias are often talked about interchangeably, but they are actually very different things. 


Fear is a strong dislike that causes avoidance, but you usually don’t think about it until the fear actually presents itself. A phobia is a much stronger form of fear. Phobias are a kind of anxiety disorder and will cause extreme distress and avoidance, and can interfere with your daily life. 


A phobia is also often something that will not cause you any harm in reality, but you can’t help thinking that it will. 


A fear of the dentist could mean you dislike going and put it off until you really have too. You might dislike the feel or the sound of the instruments, but you go when you need to. 


Dentophobia can cause you to feel such an extreme fear that you avoid going to the dentist at all. Just the thought of the dentist is enough to trigger anxiety. You might even nightmares and panic attacks. 


The causes and treatments of a fear of the dentist and dentophobia can be very similar. However, it is likely that a legitimate phobia of the dentist will take more time and more work to learn to cope with, so you will need to be prepared to put the work in for the sake of your oral health.  

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