For some people, the very thought of going to the dentist is enough to make their teeth chatter. Does this sound like you? Maybe your fear is rooted in a bad experience in childhood. Or maybe you heard how your neighbor’s best friend’s cousin had a really difficult time getting his wisdom teeth pulled. Or maybe you’ve seen one too many movies that prey upon this fear of dentists for dramatic effect (check out the Dustin Hoffman classic Marathon Man if you’ve never seen it).
Dental anxiety – otherwise known as odontophobia – can cause people to avoid seeing a dentist, even if they suspect they have a problem. It’s been estimated that as many as 80% of Americans feel some sort of dental anxiety, with 5-14% of those experiencing severe dental anxiety.
Fear no more! We have five tips that will help you feel much more at ease the next time you settle into the dentist’s chair.
- Shop around
What’s the most effective way to combat your dental anxiety? Develop a relationship with a dentist you like and trust. But if you have dental anxiety, it’s likely because you haven’t found a dentist that you connect with. See how this cycle can keep you stuck? Take a little time to shop around and find a dentist that makes you comfortable. Do they have good reviews? Do you like the office and the staff? Do they have the latest dental technologies and techniques to offer? Once you do some digging you’ll find the attributes that are most important to you, then zero in on a dentist that offers what you value most.
- Be an early bird
Simple, but surprisingly effective, booking your appointment early in the day can help you avoid stressing out as the day wears on and an afternoon appointment approaches. In addition, you should try to arrive as close to your appointment time as you can. Spending time in your dentist’s waiting room can feed your fear, and leave room for second thoughts that may lead you to head for the door. By reducing the overall amount of time that you have to spend leading up to and in the dentist’s office, you can keep your anxieties and emotions in check.
- Play with toys
Distraction is a tried and true way of reducing dental fear and anxiety. Some dentists have gadgets and gizmos to grab your attention, including screens on the ceiling, headphones, and even virtual reality headsets. But not every dentist may have the latest and greatest toy tech, so it’s always best to load up your phone with a playlist, movie or game that will occupy your mind.
- Have a chat
Sometimes the best way to overcome a fear is to face it head on and learn as much about the source as possible. When it’s dental anxiety we’re talking about, communicating with your dentist can really do the trick. The more you know about what’s going on, the more in control you might feel, and the more relaxed you may be about the whole thing. Be sure to choose a dentist that’s willing and eager to explain what’s going to happen up front, and who will walk you through the procedure every step of the way. When you know what to expect, you can calm your “fight or flight” response and trust you’re in good hands.
- If all else fails…consider sedation
Ok, you’ve put in the effort to do your research and pick a great dentist, you’ve got a killer playlist, and you’ve had a thorough talk about what exactly is going to happen and when…but you’re still terrified. As a last resort, you can consider sedation dentistry. Whether you need a root canal or a basic cleaning, sedation dentistry is a viable option and can be taken in a variety of forms, including IV, oral, and inhalation. That doesn’t mean you have to get totally knocked out. There are various levels of sedation that you can ask for, including:
- Minimal sedation. This is the lowest sedation level. It relaxes you, but you’ll still be fully awake.
- Moderate sedation. This can cause you to slur your words, and there’s a chance that you won’t remember the procedure.
- Deep sedation. This level of sedation brings you right to the edge of consciousness, although it will still be possible to wake you up if necessary.
- General anesthesia. The highest and most complete form of sedation. You’ll be fully unconscious.
For those who deal with serious and debilitating dental phobia, sedation dentistry is a fantastic way or ensuring that your experience at the dentist is as relaxed and stress-free as possible.
Seeing a dentist is a vital part of maintaining your overall health. Many times, people find that their fears far outweighed the reality of their actual dental visit. With these easy-to-implement tips, you can fight back those fears and give yourself the gift of good oral health.