How Dental Fears Work
How dental anxiety or phobia can affect your oral health
Avoiding the dentist can result in the worsening of dental disease, a greater need for emergency care or more complex treatment. It can also feeding the underlying problem of dental anxiety. This is known as the ‘vicious cycle of dental anxiety’.
Regular dental check-ups, cleans and screening X-rays can prevent dental disease and help the dentist find any problems early, so that simpler and less invasive treatments are needed.
Most dental disease is lifestyle-related and preventable. By avoiding going to the dentist, not only are you more likely to need more complex treatments when you do finally attend, but you are also missing out on learning how to better care for your oral health.
The lifestyle factors that lead to dental disease are very similar to those that lead to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and some cancers, so taking care of your oral and general health is very important.
What Causes Dental Phobia and Anxiety?
There are many reasons why some people have dental phobia and anxiety. Some of the common reasons include:
- Fear of pain. Fear of pain is a very common reason for avoiding the dentist. This fear usually stems from an early dental experience that was unpleasant or painful or from dental “pain and horror” stories told by others. Thanks to the many advances in dentistry made over the years, most of today’s dental procedures are considerably less painful or even pain-free.
- Fear of injections or fear the injection won’t work. Many people are terrified of needles, especially when inserted into their mouth. Beyond this fear, others fear that the anesthesia hasn’t yet taken effect or wasn’t a large enough dose to eliminate any pain before the dental procedure begins.
- Fear of anesthetic side effects. Some people fear the potential side effects of anesthesia such as dizziness, feeling faint, or nausea. Others don’t like the numbness or “fat lip” associated with local anesthetics.
- Feelings of helplessness and loss of control. It’s common for people to feel these emotions considering the situation — sitting in a dental chair with your mouth wide open, unable to see what’s going on.
- Embarrassment and loss of personal space. Many people feel uncomfortable about the physical closeness of the dentist or hygienist to their face. Others may feel self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth or possible mouth odors.
Dental Anxiety: 3 Ways to Stop Fearing the Dentist
If you ever get nervous just thinking about going to the dentist, you’re not alone. Perhaps you’re scared the visit might hurt or you haven’t been in a while and not sure what the dentist will find.
Whatever your reason, the right dental team will make sure your dental and your emotional health are taken care of. The more you delay – or just don’t go – to the dentist, the higher your risk of developing dental problems that will make gearing up for future dental visits more difficult. In fact, seeing your dentist regularly can actually make the entire process – from making an appointment to sailing through it – much easier on many levels.
Use these strategies at your next appointment to help ease your anxiety and strengthen your smile.
- Speak up
Anyone with anxiety knows sharing your feelings makes a world of difference. If you’re tense or anxious, do yourself a favor and get your concerns off your chest. Your dentist and dental team are better able to treat you if they know your needs.
- Tell your dentist about your anxiety. When you book your appointment, tell the receptionist you’re nervous about dental visits. Remind the dentist and dental staff about your anxiety when you arrive. Share any bad experiences you may have had in the past, and ask for suggestions on coping strategies.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes knowing what is going to happen alleviates any fears of the unknown.
- Agree on a signal. Let your dentist know by raising your hand if you need to take a break during an exam.
- If you experience pain even with a local anesthetic, tell your dentist. Some patients get embarrassed about their pain tolerance or don’t want to interrupt a dentist during a procedure. Talk with your dentist about pain before it starts so your dentist knows how to communicate with you and make it more comfortable.
- Distract yourself
Taking your mind off the exam may seem impossible when you’re nervous, but there are some things that that can help distract your thoughts.
- Wear headphones. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring headphones so you can listen to your favorite music or audiobook. Some dental offices even have televisions or show DVDs.
- Occupy your hands by squeezing a stress ball or playing with a small handheld object, like a fidget spinner.
- Imagine your happy place and visualize yourself at a relaxing beach or garden.
- Use mindfulness techniques
Relaxation starts in the mind. Try deep breathing exercises to help relax tension in your muscles.
- Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this five times while you’re waiting for your appointment, or during breaks while you’re sitting in the dental chair.
- Do a body scan. Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes. For example, you can focus on releasing tension starting in your forehead, then your cheeks, your neck and down the rest of your body.
4 Reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid of the dentist
- There is such a thing as ‘Pain-Free’ Dentistry
Most people are afraid of the dentist because they think it will hurt. Modern materials and improved techniques means that dentists are able to virtually eliminate pain from dentistry. And by visiting the dentist regularly problems can be spotted early and resolved before any pain or infection occurs. A toothache is definitely more painful than seeing your dentist!
- Smilefocus provides a relaxed and comfortable environment
Many people are concerned about the noise of dentistry. If you ask someone want they associate most with dentists they will say the drill. These days you barely hear the mechanics. Noise-cancelling headphones and the TV, movies or music contribute to a more relaxed and diversionary environment.
- A healthy mouth is a healthy heart
Your dentist is concerned about your general health, too, not just your teeth, gums and mouth. Some conditions such as heart disease are linked to the bacteria in your mouth so your dentist is as important as your GP.
- Dentists want to help you
Dentists actually like people; thet study dentistry because it is a helping profession. We asked our dentists to tell us why they chose dentistry, and their answers are on our website, included in their profile. Almost without exception it is because dentistry enables them to make a positive difference to peoples’ lives, either because their own dentist was a great role model, or because childhood experiences were terrifying, and they resolved to prevent similar experiences to others.
Here are some common worries—and strategies to subdue them:
- “It’s going to hurt” — If you’re nervous about pain, let your dentist know; she can administer anesthesia comfortably so you don’t have to suffer. Afraid of needles? Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) works well to help you relax first. If nitrous oxide isn’t enough to dull your senses, sedation dentistry is common, and all you need is a designated driver to shuttle you to and from your appointment. For patients who can’t get past an unrelenting fear of the dentist, this is usually the best option.
- Bad experience in the past — This seems to be the second most common complaint of apprehensive patients. Sometimes the overall experience of the appointment leaves you feeling unsettled — or worse, repulsed. Perhaps the office over-billed you, the hygienist wasn’t thorough, the assistant was annoying, or the dentist was insensitive. It happens, and it’s unfortunate. But it shouldn’t prejudice you against future visits either (whether with the same dentist or a new one). It’s almost always helpful to tell dental staff about your past experience, so they can understand exactly what offended you. It may require some patience, but you should be able to find a team that will be a good fit for you. And that can make all the difference.
- Feelings of helplessness or loss of control — Not being able to talk or being confined to a chair with a “noose” around your neck (not to mention being drill-shy) can evoke feelings similar to claustrophobia. If this is you, let the assistant know at the beginning of the appointment how you’re feeling. During the appointment, raise a hand to take a break (and they can stretch their backs at the same time).
- Embarrassment about your oral health — You may have gone years without a cleaning. Maybe you put off treatment, and you’re embarrassed or ashamed by the compromised state of your mouth, or what the dentist might say to you. But consider: dental professionals have seen it all. It won’t phase them, so it shouldn’t phase you either.
- Anxiety About Cost — Dental work can be expensive, especially if your insurance doesn’t cover it. Still, regular appointments with your hygienist help reduce the need for more costly treatments later. When a filling or crown is necessary, however, talk to the office manager about payment options. Most offices will work with you to create a comfortable financial arrangement. Plus, check your area for free or low-cost clinics. If you’re near a dental school, students are always looking for patients. And they work under close supervision, so no need to worry. (Sometimes they even pay you to be their patient.)