Dental anxiety is a common phenomenon, with an estimated 9-15% of American adults avoiding the dentist due to their fear. That is a staggering 30 to 40 million people! Over time, dental anxiety and fear can lead to oral health issues and increased need for treatment, lowering your quality of life. Take a look at these helpful strategies for reducing dental anxiety, and empower yourself to get the dental care you need and deserve!
Identify Your Fears
The first step to overcoming dental anxiety is to identify the main cause(s) of the fear. Some patients fear needles; if this is the case, ask your dentist to use a numbing agent on the area first before administering the local anesthetic. If you fear drills, you can bring headphones and music to block the noise of the drill. If you fear the cost, ask about your treatment options and their costs, and whether your dentist offers payment plans and financing options. A good dental practice will be happy to work with you to find a solution that fits your budget. Regardless of your specific concerns, it is important to first identify them. The next step is to find solutions and ways to minimize them.
Share Your Fears with your dentist. A good and trusted dental professional should be willing to listen to and acknowledge your fears, and often adapt their approach to accomodate you. If you don’t already have a dentist that you trust and are comfortable with, ask friends and family for recommendations and/or search online for highly rated dentists.
Ask for a thorough explanation of the treatment. Feeling informed and in control throughout an appointment often goes a long way towards easing dental anxiety!
Ask about Sedation Techniques. There are several gentle and effective sedation methods available now, with effects ranging from mild feelings of relaxation to euphoria, to general anesthesia (being put to sleep during surgery). If you are interested, your dentist can help you choose the right sedation method for the effect you desire.
Choose a low-stress appointment time when you will be least likely to feel rushed or pressured. This might mean a Friday with the whole weekend to look forward to, a Saturday, or perhaps an early morning appointment; whatever suits you best.
Avoid caffeine before your appointment. There’s no reason to add to your anxious energy levels and jitters! A mug of soothing herbal tea is a good alternative. For similar reasons, avoid sugary foods prior to your appointment and instead choose high-protein foods, which have a calming effect.
Discuss hand signals with your dentist before beginning treatment. This way, if you feel uncomfortable at any point you can simply signal for the dentist to ease off or stop.
Bring a friend or loved one. Many patients find it comforting to have a supportive presence come along with them.
Distracting Yourself! Bring a pair of headphones and your favorite relaxing music, or perhaps an absorbing audiobook or podcast. Wearing dark sunglasses will help heighten your focus on the audio even more. A small, handheld distraction can also be helpful, such as a stress ball or fidget spinner.
Mindfulness Techniques. Pay attention to your breaths and your body, and consciously work on relaxing both body and mind. Count out deep, steady inhales and exhales: this will help lower the heart rate and relax the entire body. Take a mental scan of each part of your body from head to toe, and focus on releasing any tension you find as you scan slowly and methodically down. For example, begin with relaxing your forehead, then lift and relax your eyebrows, unclench the muscles in your cheeks and jaw, then your neck, and so on.