For some people, a trip to the dentist is a simple task to complete a few times per year. For others, it’s a nightmare. If the thought of stepping into a dentist’s office is enough to raise your blood pressure, you aren’t alone. Studies have shown that dental anxiety plagues 36% of people, with 12% describing that fear as extreme.
Even if you’re afraid of the dentist, you know how important regular visits are. But conquering your dental phobia is easier said than done. With some knowledge, statistics, and psychological insights, you can train your brain to allow you the dental care you deserve. Today, we’d like to help you do that.
Dental fear can affect anyone
No matter who you are, you aren’t alone in your fear of the dentist. You might think children are more susceptible to dental fear than adults, but this isn’t true. Studies have concluded that there is no correlation between age and dental anxiety. Additionally, there is no correlation for education level or geographical location.
Long periods between visits can worsen dental fear
Dental anxiety creates an unfortunate paradox. It prevents people from visiting the dentist for long periods of time, and the longer these people go without a visit, the worse their anxiety can become.
Additionally, long periods between visits can increase chances for more severe dental problems. These problems might necessitate more invasive procedures, which may increase anxiety.
It might sound callous to say the best way to overcome dental fear is to go to the dentist, but it’s true. The only way to escape this negative feedback loop is to find a way to train your brain to bite the bullet and allow you to go regularly. To do this, it helps to try and understand the cause of your fear.
Why are people afraid of the dentist?
Dental fear isn’t just about pain
What causes dental anxiety varies from person to person, but there are correlations between fear and general anxiety disorders, as well as with histories of trauma in the head or neck area. The exact cause of dental anxiety can’t always be determined, but there are a few common culprits.
The vulnerability of a dentist’s chair
Because the face and mouth are such personal areas, a feeling of vulnerability and a violation of personal space are often what triggers anxious feelings. This is doubly true when you’re lying on your back while a dentist works above you.
Some people worry about judgment, especially when they haven’t been to a dentist in a long time. You might worry that the dentist will know you’ve been neglecting your oral health and scold you for being irresponsible.
It can be helpful to note that no matter how bad your oral health has become, your dentist has seen more severe cases. Your case might not be as severe as you think. The nature of anxiety is to assume your situation is worse than it actually is. Even if your teeth are unhealthy, a good dentist will be proud of you for taking the first steps toward getting better.
Fear of dental injections and dental numbing
A fear of needles is one of the most common causes of dental anxiety. More specifically, people find it difficult to overcome fear of dental injections and fear of dental numbing that often follows.
It helps to know that, in most cases, patients find that pain from needles is not as bad as they were expecting. Modern dentistry has come a long way. Most dentists use numbing gel to partially numb the spot and prepare it for the injection, reducing pain. Most also use a ‘Wand’ machine to slowly administer the injection to further reduce pain.
However, logic isn’t always comforting. Anxious patients typically report more, longer-lasting injection pain than less anxious patients, so the best tool to reduce pain is to reduce anxiety ahead of time. Let’s look at a few ways you can do this both with and without medication.
Meditation and medication
Meditation for dental anxiety
Meditation can be one of your greatest tools for dealing with dental anxiety. If you’ve never mediated before, try not to be intimidated. You might picture monks sitting cross-legged up in the mountains, but in truth, meditation can be a very simple process.
Before your appointment, sit or lie in a comfortable position and breathe slowly, deeply, and deliberately for several minutes. Try to focus on the feeling of your breath instead of your racing, anxious thoughts. If your worries get carried away, notice and acknowledge them, then try to focus on your breath once again.
Meditation can be difficult for some, so it may help you to follow a guided meditation. You can find a wide variety of these online on Youtube, your preferred podcast platform, or apps like Headspace. After meditation, you’re likely to feel more relaxed, focused, and in control of your emotions.
Medication for dental anxiety
Dentists are no strangers to dental anxiety, and they have tools to help you cope with your fear. Among the most common tools is nitrous oxide, also known as happy gas or laughing gas. Before your treatment, your dentist will fix a mask to your face and allow you to breathe the gas. Patients typically report feelings of relaxation and well-being, and many find it helps them cope mentally with their procedure.
In some cases, you may not want to use nitrous oxide. Other anti-anxiety medications can sometimes be used. For some procedures, anesthesia or conscious sedation might be options.
The most important step is to talk to your dentist when you call to set your appointment about what might be best for you. Never self-medicate without their approval. A good dentist will always make sure you feel comfortable and safe.
Cobblestone Dentistry is here for you
At Cobblestone, we welcome patients of all kinds, and we’re accustomed to helping patients who are coping with dental anxiety. Whether you need a routine checkup or a more invasive procedure, our team of professionals will do everything in our power to make the process of caring for your teeth as comfortable and relaxing as possible.
Call us today to set up an appointment, and we’ll talk through your options to find the best method for reducing your anxiety. You deserve to be proud of your smile, so end the negative feedback loop today.
Afraid of the dentist? You’re not alone. Learn to conquer dental anxiety and understand why you shouldn’t be afraid of the dentist. Cobblestone is here to help. (155-160)