A fear of the dentist is typically caused from poor experiences with prior dentists. It only takes one traumatic experience as a child to have lifelong impact. Sometimes, the noises and sounds in a dental practice are enough to trigger fear – tools can be loud, and some patients may be heard in pain. It is also possible that the fear pre-empts potential unwelcome news that you may be expecting to hear at the dentist about your oral health, you may even avoid going to the dentist all together. In some serious cases this fear may even verge on dentophobia, which is an extreme fear of the dentist. It is estimated that dentophobia occurs in 2.7% of men and 4.6% of women.
Here is our advice on banishing dental fear for good…
How to stay calm
The most important factor when trying to get over a fear of the dentist is remaining calm when physically visiting the practice. While sedation can be used to help you remain calm at the dentist, there are other options available that do not require medication. Try visiting the dentist at a less busy time of day, such as early in the morning. This will ensure the practice is not packed with a waiting room full of patients plus, there will be less chance of noises to instigate anxiety or panic. Additionally, it will ensure you see the dentist earlier rather than later, which reduces the time that any fears or concerns can build up in your mind.
Headphones may also help, especially if they are the noise-cancelling variety. They can be used in the waiting room to eliminate worrying noises and to take your mind off the task ahead. Practicing deep breathing or other meditation techniques may also help get your mind off the visit and calm potential nerves.
Being accompanied by another individual, such as a friend of family member is also comforting, as being alone during the visit can increase fear. You should also know that you do not have to remain in the practice if you feel uncomfortable at any time. You may have a signal that you use with the dentist when you want a break or want to leave altogether. You can then continue the visit when you are ready.
Treating dental fear
While the aforementioned tips deal with remaining calm at the dentist, if you have advanced dentophobia then going to the dentist is likely much easier said than done. This may require a combination of therapies and medications in order to fully overcome the fear completely. Exposure therapy is perhaps the most effective solution for dentophobia, and this involves increasing your exposure to the dental setting on a gradual basis. This can start off as visits near the dentist such as walking outside the practice, and then working your way up to entering the building itself. You can then gradually build on your visits until you are able to have minor treatments such as dental cleanings, and then eventually become comfortable with more major treatment or surgery.
It is also possible to take medications to help treat dentophobia, which although is unlikely to cure the issue completely it can help when used with exposure therapy. This medication includes different types of anti-anxiety drugs which help relieve symptoms as you are also working through exposure therapy. Medication is also useful in dealing with more physical symptoms such as high blood pressure.
Finding the right dentist
Perhaps the most important factor in overcoming dental fear is finding the right dentist who understands your fears and works with you to deal with them. You may be able to find a dentist who will cater for your specific needs through recommendations from family or friends. Another option would be to research and contact dentists in your area to check whether they have dealt with similar cases and how they can help.
Once you have found a potential dentist it is best to book a consultant with the dentist before choosing any potential treatment options. This gives you an opportunity to discuss your needs in depth with the dentist and ensure they can deal with your requirements. It is essential to be open and honest in this consultation and describe in depth about your key concerns and allow them to better put your mind at ease.