Let me start by saying that nobody is born fearing the dentist! Fear around going to the doctor or dentist is learned behavior. How do people become afraid of the dentist? And what are some tools to help you plan, relax and take care of your beautiful teeth and smile? I’ll give you some solid recommendations, but first a little background.
What could have or now happens to you
As a child, you may or may not have had any bad experiences with a dentist, but you might have seen something, or heard some scary stories that stayed with you as you approached adulthood. As an adult patient, you now visit the dental office and associate certain sights, sounds and smells. When you’re in the dentist’s chair lying on your back, you can’t talk and you might feel like you have no control over what’s happening. The dentist or hygienist is in a mask, asking you to keep your mouth wide open, while holding and using metal tools which may feel like gentle poking to scraping, sometimes causing sudden discomfort.
I get it ! According to Dentalheath.org, mild anxiety about going to the dentist is normal.
Tools to help control fear or anxiety
Fear not and visit regularly! Visits every six months will help keep your mouth and beautiful teeth, healthy. Anticipation can be worse than the visit. Some patients resist their checkups if they fear a cavity and filling, root canal or a wisdom tooth extraction, and all procedures are handled pre- and post-procedure with pain management sedation and/or medication. All three procedures extractions are handled in one visit, often relieving the source of problem, pain and discomfort.
Engage your dentist! Ask what’s going to be done and what to expect as far as length of time in the chair, or any discomfort. Have agreed upon signals if you need a break.
Relax! Try controlled breathing -- take a big breath in, hold it for a count of three, then exhale slowly. Or mindful meditation where you focus on your breathing, and let each thought float away like a cloud. Both techniques slow your heartbeat and relax your mind and muscles.
Sedation! Review with your dentist which sedatives are available or appropriate. Options include local anesthetic injection, nitrous oxide ("laughing gas"), oral sedatives or intravenous sedation.
Some relaxation technique suggestions from patients, include:
• Listen to podcasts, books or soothing music with headphones
• Practice deep breathing
• Ask your dentist to explain everything before starting procedures
• Get a dentist recommendation from a friend or family who has an office with a TV in the exam room, and uses certain sedation like nitrous oxide (laughing gas.)
Severe anxiety and phobias
When it comes to severe dental anxiety, you may be dealing with a psychological phobia more due to fears. Some patients can overcome severe dental anxiety with counseling, support networks like DentalFearCentral, or sedation which may include may include nitrous oxide, oral or intravenous medication.
Children and dental visits: The earlier the better!
According to Parents.com, the earlier a child visits the dentist, the better. Providing a “dental home” for checkups or emergency care, provides some comfort and security. When a child is around age two, show them their teeth in a mirror and maybe have them pretend to brush the teeth of a stuffed toy or doll. Before the dental visit, act positive and just say that they are getting their smile checked, teeth counted! Keep details to a minimum and don’t use any pain words (shot, hurt, pain). It’s recommended to allow the office staff introduce vocabulary that is child user-friendly, and let your child know that going to the dentist keeps their teeth healthy so they can eat all their favorite foods!
If these recommendations don’t address your concerns, I recommend that you personally talk to your dentist or oral health care provider today. We strive to help keep patients proactive in their own oral health, and always comfortable!