Scared of the dentist, but need treatment? You’re not alone. The Journal of the Canadian Dental Association reports up to 22 percent of patients experience extreme dental anxiety.
If you’re like many people, you undergo some degree of uneasiness when facing the prospect of a visit to the dentist. It can be unsettling having someone explore a personal area of your body, such as your mouth, gums and teeth.
And, for some people, this nervousness extends beyond being mildly unsettling. People who experience aggressive forms of dental anxiety may be so panic-stricken by thoughts of visiting the dentist they avoid it to the point where mild problems become severe.
When this happens, it can trigger a cascade effect requiring more invasive dental procedures or other repercussions, such as:
- A tooth extraction
- A root canal
- Emergency dental work requiring general anesthesia
It can also lead to poor self-esteem if you’re concerned about your appearance due to a bad tooth or a smile you’re embarrassed about.
Even though most people, according to Alberta Dental Association & College, don’t know what the dentist is looking for when conducting a dental exam, routine dental visits can help you avoid many of the would-be scarier complications good oral health care can prevent.
Working through dental anxiety can enable you to get the preventive care you may need to potentially avoid more intense dental treatments and therapies.
What Is Dental Anxiety?
Dental anxiety is a condition in which you suffer extreme discomfort, nervousness, fear and even panic at the thought of going to the dentist. In more extreme cases, it manifests in very real symptoms.
Unfortunately, this fear or anxiety causes many people to put off going to the dentist for years, or even decades. Some people avoid seeing the dentist until:
- Their pain is so intense they can no longer avoid it.
- They have substantial damage they cannot ignore, which a dentist must address.
Fear preventing you from going to the dentist for so long can lead to other oral and overall health conditions. According to the Canadian government, poor oral health links to a variety of major health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disease
- Premature babies
- Babies with low birth weight
Good dental care is also instrumental in the prevention of many other major health problems that go far beyond the strength of your teeth. You can prevent extensive damage through regular cleanings, examinations and dental checkups, along with a few minor procedures along the way. Taking care of your teeth is about so much more than protecting the integrity of your smile, and working to overcome dental anxiety so you can get the oral health care you require is critical.
Symptoms of Dental Anxiety
Some of the common symptoms of dental anxiety include:
- Upset stomach
- Hot flashes
- Palpitations and increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty breathing
- The urge to cry at the thought of going to the dentist
- Difficulty sleeping before dental examinations
- Intense discomfort at the thought of going to the dentist
The more severe the anxiety, the more problematic positive oral health outcomes become if you’ve put off seeing the dentist for several years.
Fortunately, there are several methods and tools you can use, both in the dentist’s office and out, to help you figure out how to stay calm at the dentist. The more tools you use to assist you before or during your next dental examination, the better you will equip yourself to manage your anxiety effectively.
Causes of Dental Anxiety
Anxiety, fear, phobias: While they may be all in your head, events, feelings or experiences can cause them, whether they relate to going to the dentist or not.
As you are unique, you come to the dentist with your individual history. This history shapes your perceptions and fears, and it can profoundly impact your experience regardless of the dentist. The more you understand what shapes your anxiety and fears take, the better you will be able to address them.
People fear the dentist for a variety of reasons. Your reason may be one of the ones below, or something else entirely.
- Negative experiences: When exploring dental anxiety, consider the events of the past. It doesn’t even have to be in a dentist’s chair to create a lasting fear. It could be watching a horror movie as a child or another movie involving a scary dentist. This perception can affect your reality and can generate extreme anxiety over going to the dentist.
- Feelings of loss of control: Some people find they aren’t able to relinquish control when they’re in the dentist’s chair. For example, you might not be able to handle the vulnerability, and are unwilling to let the dentist take over.
- Fear of anesthetics and the side effects they cause: Anesthetics lead to a variety of possible side effects. Aside from the numbness commonly associated with local anesthetics, some people experience dizziness, nausea, drowsiness and feeling faint. Others have swelling of the tongue, pain in the ears, necks, joints or muscles, excessive drooling and increased thirst. If this happens to you, your dental anxiety might be related to these potential anesthesia side effects.
- Trust issues: Most people spend very little time with their dentist. It’s hard to develop a trusting relationship with someone you’ve only just met. You can exacerbate this if you move frequently, or if you’ve had bad experiences — real or imagined — with dentists in the past.
- Other phobias or conditions: Sometimes the fear of a dentist is one symptom of another fear. It can be conditions or phobias, such as claustrophobia, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder — or something else entirely. In fact, it could be any condition affecting or intensifying the discomfort you associate with going to the dentist.
- Fear of injections: Even greater is the fear the local anesthetic injections won’t work or won’t work right away. If this happens, patients fear they will feel the full force of the pain once the procedure begins.
- Fear of what dental sounds indicate: Having a dental exam or procedures done involves a lot of sounds. Some of these, like the sound of a drill, causes anxiety in fear in some people.
- The discomfort of having your personal space invaded: This is a cause of dental anxiety many people don’t fully understand, even when experiencing it. Some individuals have issues about personal space and feel infringed upon when people outside their permitted groups invade their space.
Take time to assess the probable cause of your anxiety and start addressing those potential causes on your own. You can begin with the tips for dealing with dental anxiety discussed below.
Dental Anxiety Tips
One of the greatest tools for overcoming fears is to have positive experiences negating those fears. To do that, it can be helpful to move beyond the anxiety. These tips can help you overcome, or at least manage, your dental anxiety, so you can get the oral health care you need for the sake of your dental and overall health.
Take Better Care of Your Oral Health
Easing dental anxiety can begin at home. You may have existing oral health concerns due to neglect. While you do need to address those, upping your oral health routine at home can help you feel more confident going into the dentist’s office. Things you can do include the following:
- Avoiding using tobacco
- Eating a healthy diet
- Cutting out sugary foods and drinks
- Eating more tooth-building proteins and fewer carbs
- Brushing your teeth at least twice daily using fluoride-based toothpaste
- Flossing daily
- Replacing your toothbrush every three months
Boosting your confidence going into the dentist’s office sets the stage for a better experience overall.
Talk to the Dentist
The Canadian Dental Association recommends you talk to the dentist about your dental anxiety. That means opening up about your fears and concerns, and about the treatment plan suggested for you.
Learn to Trust the Dentist
Read reviews online from other dental patients. Their independent feedback helps you establish some trust in your dentist and how they have helped others with their dental care.
Ask the Dentist About Tools and Resources Available to Maximize Your Comfort
Dentists use plenty of dental anxiety treatment options available today to assist patient comfort. These include things like:
- On-demand video services
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Warm blankets
- Relaxing music — in some cases, allowing patients to choose the music
As you can see, there are plenty of tools available to help reduce anxiety. Choose a dentist who offers or allows you to bring in an anxiety-curbing tool of your choice.
Dental Choice Tips for Easing Dental Anxiety
Dental Choice wants you to have every opportunity to feel comfortable and secure during your visit. Whether it’s a routine cleaning or a more in-depth dental procedure, we want you to take the time you need to ease your anxiety and maximize your comfort.
We encourage patients concerned about anxiety to schedule an appointment to discuss your worries and the ways we can help. This appointment can be a stress-free occasion where you talk to us about the causes of dental anxiety, as well as the methods we have available to help ease those concerns.
We believe this type of visit helps us understand you and your situation better and allows you to take the first steps toward a more trusting relationship with us. We can also discuss the possibility of dental sedation, so you can get the care you need to unburden yourself from overwhelming anxiety.
Coping With Dental Anxiety
Coping with dental anxiety may require an effort on your part. These are a few tactics and tools available that can help you cope with anxiety better, so you can get through the necessary dental procedures.
Self-Remedies for Dental Anxiety
You can implement one or more coping strategies for dental anxiety. Try these, for example.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness: Meditation is a time-honoured tool for dealing with general anxiety. You can use it to address specific types of anxiety, like the kind you could experience when considering a dental visit. Begin with deep breathing exercises, and return to those anytime your upcoming dental care needs make you feel overwhelmed.
- Distract yourself from what is going on: You have the world at your fingertips with your mobile phone or tablet device. Bring along some distractions, like streaming movies, audiobooks or even your favourite music to listen to, while the dentist works on your teeth.
- Invest in a stress ball or fidget spinner to occupy your mind during your visit: Children might like to have their favourite stuffed animal along with them during their appointment.
- Consider anxiety medication: Another option to consider for coping with your dental anxiety is to ask your physician if a short-term prescription for anti-anxiety medication might help you get through your dental treatment needs. You’ll need to discuss this with your dentist as well to avoid potential interactions between medications, but it might help take the edge off your anxiety enough so you can get through the procedure without experiencing excess stress.
- Practice visualization techniques: Picture yourself somewhere else, preferably a place that relaxes you. Whether this is at the beach or sitting on your front porch swing, visualizing you’re somewhere pleasant can help calm you.
How Dental Choice Can Help You Manage Your Dental Anxiety
Dental Choice offers a variety of tools and services designed to ease anxiety and help you feel more comfortable throughout your visit. Not only are we willing to discuss your anxiety and work out a series of hand signals you can use to help ease your concerns, but we also offer sedation techniques to help ease your fears about treatment. Not all patients are suitable for sedation dentistry. We will help identify if one of our sedation methods is a suitable choice for you.
We offer the following three types of sedation dentistry for our adult patients:
- Oral sedatives
- Nitrous oxide, sometimes called laughing gas
- IV sedation
Other Options to Deal With Dental Anxiety
Dental Choice offers a variety of other options for coping with dental anxiety. These include the following.
- Application of local sedatives: In addition to sedation dentistry, we use local sedatives to help reduce any discomfort you might experience during dental procedures.
- Use of hand signals: We also understand part of dental anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown and feeling out of control. Hand signals can help. You can let the dentist know you need a break by raising your hand to signal a stop.
- Explanation of each step: We will explain each step beforehand and along the way so you know what is going on and you maintain some degree of control over the pace of the procedure.
- Use of a computer-assisted system for delivery of local anesthesia: We offer The Wand, a computer-assisted system for application of local anesthesia. Known as single-tooth anesthesia, it can freeze a single tooth. It provides dentists with guidance while they are conducting dental injections. Patients who experience this technology may find it offers more contained numbness and less pain in the area.
Discuss your dental anxiety concerns with us here at Piper Creek Dental Choice, and allow us to work with you to develop a treatment plan to help to put your fears to rest while allowing you to receive the dental care and treatment you need.