Dental phobias: fear of going to the dentist

Practice good dental hygiene to avoid health complications

If you dread going to the dentist, you’re not alone. An estimated 75% of people have a fear of the dentist even though most dental visits are fairly benign. The problem with letting your dental phobia stop you from getting the treatment you need is that it puts you at an increased risk of developing cavities and gum disease. The good news? There are many solutions for overcoming this fear and avoiding serious health complications.

While tight budgets and other issues may contribute to why many families avoid receiving the dental care they need, fear is most often the underlying cause. In many cases, a dental phobia stems from an unpleasant experience as a child, especially one that occurred before the age of four or younger. Everything from the drill and the perceived potential for discomfort, to remembering previous, less developed methods of dental treatment can contribute to this unease. Many studies have been done regarding this anxiety, and there are now many options for making a visit to the dentist more comfortable and less stressful for you and your family.

Tips for coping with your fear

Get a good night's sleep before the appointment because being well-rested can help reduce your anxiety. Rather than focusing on the worst thing that could happen, imagine the appointment and any procedures going well. Think about how good it will feel to have your teeth cleaned and checked and to know your oral health is at its best. Deep breathing techniques can help slow your nervous system's response to fear, letting you think clearly and change your perceptions towards the experience. Do this as often as you need to in the days leading up to your appointment and try to minimize your exposure to stressful situations in the previous days.

How to help someone who has a fear of going to the dentist

If someone in your family requires dental work but is struggling with dental phobia, try to offer friendly counseling. More severe anxiety issues may require medical treatment or professional council for the individual to realize they are making the prospect of going to the dentist appear worse than it really is. If you know someone like this, suggest a visit to the doctor before taking any other action. A professional with experience treating individuals suffering from anxiety can then recommend options for treatment. If you know this person well, encourage them to talk about it with you. Be understanding and empathize with their fear, encourage them to keep the appointment and perhaps offer to go with them if they need extra support. Most likely, once an individual with anxiety about visiting the dentist has a positive experience or two, their fears will begin to lessen.

Options the dentist offers to help minimize stress

Dentists, oral hygienists, and other professionals in this field are prepared to help people with dental phobias. Dentists offer many coping methods, which may include therapy or local anesthetics. For some, a local anesthetic may be a better option than being put to sleep. This option allows the patient to remain alert during the dental procedure, which will enable them to face their fears. However, others have reported success through conscious sedation with the use of a harmless nitrous oxide gas, more commonly known as laughing gas. This lets the patient get through the procedure with minimal anxiety, fear, and stress.

You can call the dentist’s office ahead of time and ask to speak with the doctor before scheduling an appointment. Be honest about your fears and concerns. Ask about some of the treatment options described above, including pain relievers and mild sedatives. If you're pregnant, this should be disclosed to the doctor, as well. Certain treatments, like nitrous oxide gas, are harmful to the baby and should be avoided. Make sure to relax and remember to take deep breaths before and during the procedure.

You should not feel guilt or shame about this fear or feel foolish sharing these concerns with your doctor or someone close to you. They are there to help and will offer the support you need. Facing this fear will give you a newfound confidence that will enable you to face other, similar challenges and fears in the future.

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