How to cope with Dental Anxiety

Do you suffer from Dental Anxiety? If so, here are some tips!

We all know that we are meant to visit our dentist regularly (at least once every 6 months), but for a lot of us this is something that we fail to do, sometimes for years at a time due to the anxiety or fear that comes with visiting the dentist! The rest of us reluctantly attend. Generally, the dentist isn’t most folks favourite place to go! Here are some tips to help from a previous dentophobic scaredy-cat!

For me it was always the day/night before a dental appointment that the anxiety symptoms would start. The constant dread, sweating, feelings of panic, shortened breath, trying to find any excuse to cancel, and a lot of the time I used humour with family or friends to mask how anxious I was about the upcoming appointment…and that was before even entering the practice!

The day of the appointment would cause me even more distress before getting there. Depending on the appointment time, with knots in my stomach I would spend the whole day leading up to it thinking of worst-case scenarios, thinking of how unnatural it was going to feel, materialising the taste of the gloves and instruments, hearing the tapping of the dental probe and dreading the inevitable long anxious wait in the ‘dentist smelling’ waiting room. Even the thought of a simple scale & polish used to install the fight or flight and would sometimes make me postpone until another appointment.

This fear and anxiety had been present from a very young age, regardless of the constant assurance and support from family members. There wasn’t one specific incident that triggered this fear initially, though I do think the facemask had a lot to do with it (Pre- COVID times this wasn’t something you often saw!) I didn’t see the dentist as a person under the mask. I had never seen them without it and thought of them as more of a repo man!

It was only when I hit mid 20’s and got a job in a dental practice that my fear dissolved away. Dentistry, and the attitude towards it, has changed a lot since I was younger (I’m getting on a bit now!). There are more and more people opting for cosmetic procedures rather than attending merely for necessity. For me, the reason my anxiety and fear started to pass was knowing more about what the dentist was doing rather than letting my brain scramble for worst-case scenarios and seeing that the tools aren’t actually the torture devices I’d originally thought they were. Normally we are left to guess what’s happening during any treatment as it’s not an area we can see, I took comfort in learning, knowing and being able to see what other patients were getting done, the skill and the craftsmanship of it. Some anxious patients would rather not know what’s being done, though.

Here are some things you can try upon your next dental visit to banish that pesky dental anxiety!

Share your fear
Communicate to your dentist/receptionist that you are feeling uneasy about the visit prior to your appointment. (This allows them to ask more questions and tailor the appointment to make you feel comfortable)

Breathe
Seems simple, right? Not always when that anxiety kicks in! Remember to breathe. Breathing slowly and counting them helps! We can unintentionally hold our breath when feeling nervous, which lowers your oxygen level and can actually cause more panic.

Bring Tunes
Everyone has different triggers, for some it’s the noise! For those that cannot bare the noise of a scaler or drill. If that’s you, bring some headphones and pop them in and listen to your favourite tunes during your treatment!

Use Signals
Agree on hand signals during in order to communicate with your dentist during your treatment if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Sedation
A lot of dentists offer the option of sedation for some treatments at an additional cost, which could be an option for those who are feeling too overwhelmed even after trying the other techniques.

Hopefully some of these tips can help! If you have any successful tips or tricks that you’ve used to help cope with dental anxiety, feel free to leave a comment -it may help others! It’s so important to have empathy for patients or friends/family who feel this way, as it takes so much courage for them to even show up and can lead to avoiding dental treatment and care for years or even decades! You got this!

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