Many people still dislike going to the dentist due to anxiety or fear. Between13% and 24% of people are afraid to go to the dentist and will avoid it at all costs, which is why I always applaud those who do make it to their regular dental checks and commit to keeping their smile pristine.
As a dentist my role is to help you take care of your teeth so you can have a healthy mouth and live a healthier longer life. Although you might take your teeth for granted, they’re pretty important as without them its difficult to speak and eat, and there’s not much to smile about when you have bad teeth.
Some people get anxious about dental visits because of a bad experience they had in the past or because they start to anticipate discomfort and fear that everything could go wrong. However, modern dentistry has advanced incredibly in recent years and even the most dreaded procedures are now much easier and only carry a small degree of discomfort.
However, if you struggle to feel at ease and calm when you go to the dentist here are some tips that I use with my patients that can support you to overcome your fear of the dentist.
1. Be honest with your dentist about your concerns
The first step to building trust, reducing your anxiety and improving the overall experience is to simply be honest. Tell your dentist and the staff how you feel and your concerns. We aren’t scary monsters — we’re human, and have fears of their own (I don’t like flying for example or heights). We’ll do the best we can come up with ways to make you feel more comfortable and help support you to feel more in control.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Often, fear stems from the unknown. You may start to try and fill in the foggy future by creating stories in your mind about what might happen, or by watching videos on youtube (which I don’t recommend if you’re fearful). Usually, your mind spirals into worst-case scenarios, even if they are actually very unlikely to happen in real life.
Instead of letting your mind wander into those spiraling concerns, ask the dental assistant and dentist to walk you through what they’ll do during the procedure before you even go in. Once you’re there, ask them to explain what they’re doing as they work, too. I find giving my patients a step through of this is what I’m doing now and why, this is what you might experience and this is how far along we are really helps.
You might even be surprised just how much you’ll learn and how happy your dentist is to tell you what is going on. Pretty soon the procedure will seem routine, maybe even a bit repetitive, and less like your worst nightmare.
3. Go slow
Sometimes people get caught up in the people pleasing side of dentistry. Your mouth is open for most of the time, it’s difficult to speak and someone is leaning over you instructing you how to adjust your face.
It certainly can feel awkward, and you might try to just get in and get out without making waves. However, it’s actually okay to interrupt your dentist or dental hygienist if you need a break to take a breath or get settled. Don’t forget that you’re the patient, and we want to make sure everything goes smoothly, too.
If you need to slow things down, ask a question, spit, take a break, or anything else, speak up. Sometimes people don’t feel in control when they’re in the dental chair, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
4. Try breathing exercises
Being able to calm yourself and get back to an emotional middle-ground is essential for any type of stress. Practice slow, gentle breathing exercises before you go to the dentist and when you get there to try and maintain a calm breath. This will also help you stay focused and in the present.
You can also practice breathing exercises when you’re with your dentist. Focusing on your breath will also draw your attention to something other than what’s going on in your mouth.
5. Bring something soothing
Sometimes focusing on your breath can be a little difficult, so you might want to take along something else that you find soothing. Bring your own music to listen to while you’re waiting or take along something to fidget with like silly putty or a hair band. You can play with it while you’re getting your teeth cleaned to distract your mind.
6. Bring backup
Having a friend or family member with you – someone you can trust – is also beneficial. Just knowing someone is there to support you can bring some relief.
7. Ask your dentist for sedatives
If you really feel unable to handle your anxiety, ask your dentist to use sedatives. They may be able to use nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or calming medications.
Although not ideal, using these sedatives to cope with your fear is better than not ever going to the dentist at all.
8. Go to counseling
For some people, none of these tips are enough to get over their fear. If you’ve become so petrified of going to the dentist it prevents you from getting the treatment you need to stay healthy, you may have a phobia.
There’s a difference between being afraid of something and phobias, which interfere with your daily life and go far beyond anxiety. If you really can’t go to the dentist because of a phobia, it may be a good idea to seek counseling to try and master it.
As a dentist I don’t want to inspire fear; I want to help. If you let me, I can work with you to make sure those pearly whites are healthy for years to come. So, what are you waiting for? Contact us now. 07 3720 1811.
Dr Rachel Hall is founder and principal dentist at Evolve Dental Healing in Kenmore, she is passionate about holistic health and giving you a beautiful smile you can be proud of for years to come.