If the thought of visiting the dentist fills you with fear, with a racing heart and sweaty palms, you are far from alone. In fact, some 80% of all Americans claim to experience some form of anxiety related to dental treatments. Another 14% of those surveyed, claim their anxiety borders on full-on, debilitating phobia. Thankfully, whether your dental anxiety is mild or completely debilitating, you can overcome it with the eight tips listed below.
Be Honest About Your Fears
Most dentists and dental professionals understand that people have very real anxieties relating to dental procedures or even cleaning visits. When you make a dental appointment, if you tend to have anxiety, be sure to mention it at that time. If your fear is debilitating, you can even schedule a consultation to speak with your dental professional beforehand. Explaining why you feel the way you do can help. It will also give the office staff and dental professionals a chance to explain what you can expect during your visit and to lessen your fear of the unknown. Speaking of explanations…
Ask for Explanations
Seeing a tray full of dental instruments causes a sense of anxiety in many patients. Thankfully, dentists or dental professionals are happy to explain to you what each tool does. This can look much like a meet-and-greet between you and dental instruments. This will make every instrument seem less intimidating and scary. It’s also smart to ask what will happen in any procedure, so you know exactly what to expect. Ask for explanations when you don’t understand something. This is a great way to feel more in control and lessen your sense of panic.
In some cases, you simply need a break from your procedure, especially one that lasts a while. A compassionate dental professional will allow you to take these needed breaks during a lengthy procedure if you so desire. Of course, some people simply prefer to get through the procedure as quickly as possible with no breaks. This is where the consultation process, or having a conversation before you begin is helpful. Tell your dental professional if a break will help you, so they know to allow for those breaks.
Develop a Method of Communicating
One of the main culprits of anxiety is feeling like you are powerless to control the situation. Being unable to communicate is obviously scary—knowing you are unable to tell the surrounding professionals that you are anxious, need a break or are hurting. Therefore, before beginning, come up with a way to communicate. It could be a squeeze on the arm, telling your dental hygienist you need a minute or could be they give you a little sign to hold that you lift if you need a moment, whatever the communication tool looks like, just make sure you have one before your procedure. Just knowing you have a way to make it stop once it starts can be enough to put your mind and nerves at ease.
Bring a Support Person With You
As long as it’s okay with your dental professional, bringing along a person that you trust can help ease your fears. They can sit in the room with you during cleanings or exams, or even during more invasive procedures if allowed. You can create a system of communication with this person, meaning you can alert them if you need a break or are uncomfortable, and they can speak for you. Just having someone there who will speak on your behalf should you get overwhelmed can be extremely helpful if you have dental-based anxiety.
Sometimes the sounds you hear during a dental procedure can cause anxiety. Sounds like the suction tube or drills often are unnerving and can lead to anxious thoughts. There are many ways to distract yourself from these sounds, though. You can put headphones in and listen to soothing music or a podcast, or ask to watch something on the TV (if your dentist has an in-room TV). Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind from focusing on what is going on during your procedure. This may even include sedation. If you do this, it will be over before you even know it.
Consider Your Comfort
Ask your dentist what they can do to make you more comfortable. Often anxiety is brought on because you worry your procedure will cause pain. This is human and normal. However, there is no need to fear. In many cases, you can ask for nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, or other types of sedatives. You will get this before you are given a numbing shot to ensure you are at ease before your procedure begins. You can also ask your regular physician if you can take an anti-anxiety med before your dental procedure. Just make sure you clear it with your dentist before taking it to maintain safety at all times. You do not want an adverse reaction to occur, but as long as you are communicating with all involved parties, taking something to take the edge off before a procedure can be a big help.
Try Relaxation Techniques
Finally, even if you don’t want to take anything, you can still help your body relax by using visualization, meditation or prayer to calm your body. Try breathing techniques, like holding your breath and then letting it out slowly. Practicing mindfulness and calming techniques can be enough to get you through your dental procedure. You can also listen to calming nature sounds, such as rain, ocean sounds, the sound of the wind, etc. Anything you need to ensure you are calm is a great idea for getting through a sometimes scary dental situation.
Bottom Line: Anxiety is Real, But We Can Help
Dental anxiety is a very real issue. While it doesn’t affect everyone, we understand that for those it does affect, it can be a significant issue. Thankfully, by implementing any of the eight tips listed above, or a combination of them, you can promote a sense of calm that will ensure your next dental visit isn’t scary at all. If you are struggling with anxiety, please let us know, so together we can address the problem and ensure you feel safe, calm and welcome in our office, as that is our utmost goal.