Defeating Dental Anxiety - How to Overcome a Fear of the Dentist's Chair
No one actively enjoys a session in the dentist's chair, but for some people, this natural apprehension and nervousness can reach another level entirely. Sufferers of dental anxiety, also called odontophobia, find the idea of visiting a dentist truly terrifying, often to the point of experiencing panic attacks when they try. Naturally, this will have serious effects on dental health as the years go by.
However, it doesn't have to be this way. With a little help, most people can get their dental phobia under control, and while treatment will never be a joy, it'll become just as bearable as it is for most people.
What Causes Dental Phobia?
Although dental phobia goes well beyond normal feelings of apprehension, it usually has its roots in feelings or experiences that most people will recognize.
- Worries about pain or discomfort during treatment.
- Memories of bad experiences in the dental surgery, usually from childhood.
- Anxiety over loss of control and feeling helpless.
- Embarrassment if you've not visited for a long time.
- Nervousness caused by scenes of painful dentistry in films and books, or even in tall tales told by friends.
While these worries are all common - and very real - they become a phobia when they take on exaggerated importance and spiral out of control. Thankfully, there are several ways to combat this fear, mostly by working together with your dentist before and during treatment.
Tell Your Dentist First
It's important to let your dentist know just how anxious you're feeling. Don't try and put a brave face on it, as trying to suppress your negative feelings will just inflame them even further. You won't be your dentist's first patient with dental phobia, but if they don't realize how worried you are, they can't help.
Decide on Communication
Once your dentist knows there's a problem, you need to agree on how much information you'll be given about your treatment. Some people prefer to have every step explained in advance so that they can prepare themselves and aren't startled by unexpected noises or sensations. Others prefer to know as little as possible so they can try and ignore what's going on. Whichever approach is right for you, agree it first with your dentist.
Agree on an Emergency Signal
Before any treatment begins, you should agree on a clear signal you can give when your anxiety is rising to an uncomfortable level. This could be simply raising your arm a few inches off the armrest, but when you give this signal the dentist should stop work as soon as possible to give you a moment to collect yourself. Crucially, knowing that you have this option in reserve actually reduces nervousness, as it restores a feeling of control over your situation.
You can feel extremely lonely and exposed lying on the dentist's chair, with your mouth open and the light shining in your eyes. Try taking a friend to sit by your side, offering moral support and words of encouragement. Also, a good friend may spot the signs of rising anxiety before your dentist does, and can suggest a break.
The whirring of drills and the hum of machinery can really dial up your anxiety levels, so try playing some gentle music during treatment. This will help cover up the disturbing sounds, as well as giving you something external else to focus on.
Staying as calm as possible during treatment is vital, and relaxation techniques from simple deep breathing to meditation can really help. Try consciously tensing and relaxing each muscle in your body in turn, starting from your toes and working upward. Alternatively, concentrate your mind on a happy memory, trying to recall every detail as precisely and vividly as you can. Practice these techniques before your appointment, so that you can put them into action when you feel anxiety getting the better of you.
Lastly, sometimes none of the above will be enough, especially if you're about to undergo your first major treatment in several years. In these cases, sedation dentistry is an option for general dentistry & cosmetic dentistry. This can range from the mild influence of gas and air to a deeper form of partial anesthesia. These aren't options to be taken lightly - not only are there risks in taking any drug, but there'll be an extra cost involved and you may have to travel to a specialist clinic. Nonetheless, it's worth discussing the option if you truly can't face treatment unaided.
Up to three-quarters of adults suffer at least some nervousness before visiting their dentist, but dental phobia can make even light treatment all but impossible. If you're a sufferer, then discuss these options with your dentist, ask for their advice, and you'll have every chance of overcoming your fears enough to successfully get through your next appointment.