If you feel anxious or afraid at the mere thought of going to the dentist, you should know that you’re not alone. More than 33% of Americans feel the same emotions about dentists. Often, people who suffer from dental anxiety or fear never go to the dentist, and then are faced with a lifetime of poor oral health, pain, and potential adverse effects to their overall health.
Interestingly, patients who are anxious or fearful of a dental visit often find that an actual dental procedure isn’t nearly as “scary” as they expected. Patient surveys done prior to and after some of the most fear-inducing dental procedures (i.e. root canals or wisdom tooth removal) found that patients’ expectation of discomfort was not matched by the actual discomfort they experienced.
Common Reasons for Dental Anxiety – And Tips to Overcome Them
Not knowing what will happen: The unknown is often at the root of many of our fears, so sitting down with your dentist to discuss your situation and what dental procedures would be used to help you can be critical in reducing your anxiety level. Also, to make you feel more comfortable, bring along a friend for your dental visit. Your familiarity with them will help overcome the unfamiliarity of a dental office.
Physically feeling uneasy: Simple techniques like controlled breathing can help reduce the physical manifestations of fear and anxiety. For controlled breathing, take a big breath, then hold it, and finally let it out slowly (pretend you are a leaky tire). A second technique you can try is progressive muscle relaxation – tense and relax muscle groups one after another.
Dental equipment: Not understanding what those often odd-looking tools are used for during your dental visit can create lots of anxiety. Ask your dentist if you can hold the tools and examine them so you don’t feel like alien objects are going to probe around in your mouth.
Gag reflex: Dental X-rays are often difficult to cope with if you are anxious about your dental visit because of the tabs that are put in your mouth. Luckily, most dentists now use digital X-rays, which don’t need tabs.
Loud noises: The sound of a dental drill or other dental instrument often generates anxiety or fear in patients. Ask your dentist for earplugs or headphones that will eliminate sounds during your visit.
Lying back in a dental chair: For some patients, lying back in a dental chair creates anxiety because of the loss of control. For other patients, they may have back issues. Ask for your dental chair to be only put halfway back. Or also ask for pillows to reduce aches and pains in your back when the chair is lowered.
Breathing through your mouth: If you tend to breathe through your mouth, then you probably feel like your breathing is impaired when you are in a dental chair. After all, the dental care team will need to be working in your mouth during the visit, which can make it tough to breathe. You might try a nasal strip to open up the air passages in your nose. Or ask for nitrous oxide, which will help you relax and will make breathing easier while you are in the dental chair.
Sources: WebMD, Huffington Post