How to Alleviate Your Dental Anxiety: 7 Tips For a Worry-Free Cleaning
Are you delaying your biannual dental checkup? (You’re probably not the only one.)
Dental anxiety can be so severe it interferes with your oral health care. Learn more about dentist anxiety and how to handle it.
Dentophobia and odontophobia are two terms used to describe an intense fear of the dentist. Dental anxiety and fear can vary from mild to severe.
The little bit of anxiety you feel when you go to the dentist is normal. When it becomes so severe that you avoid going to the dentist, however, you could have a dental phobia.
This can lead to dental health issues due to a lack of dental care. You might have increased tooth decay or miss the early onset of issues like gum disease. Learning to manage dentophobia can help you get the oral care you need.
You can't always get over dental anxiety completely. However, you can work on your dental phobia with various strategies that could make it more manageable.
Two methods sometimes used for dental anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. The idea is to gradually expose you to the trigger and learn how to respond to it differently. For dentist anxiety, that might be looking at pictures of a dental office and learning to change how you think about it.
Finding the right dentist can also help. Everyone has different preferences, so consider what helps you feel comfortable. You might prefer someone with a soothing voice who doesn't rush, for instance.
It can also help to hone in on the specific things that make you anxious. Some common fears include pain, lack of control, fear of the unknown, needles and the sound of the drill. If you know the specific reason for your anxiety, you can focus your efforts on that. For instance, if you're afraid of needles used to numb your mouth, you might focus your exposure therapy on needles.
You made it to the dentist's office, but you're feeling your anxiety increasing. What can you do to ease your dental phobia during the procedure? Here are some tips.
- Take a friend: Having someone with you who makes you feel calm can make the trip easier to handle. They might not be able to go into the procedure room with you, but they can help you stay calm until you go back.
- Arrive early: This starts the dental visit calmly rather than by being rushed. It can give you time to think through the process and prepare mentally. However, arriving too early could give you more time to focus on the scary parts and make your anxiety worse.
- Use distractions: Dental offices often have movies above the chairs, music playing or other distractions, but they might not be effective for you. Coming prepared with a calming playlist or other distractions can help you keep your anxiety under control at the dentist.
- Use breathing exercises: You can teach yourself several different deep breathing exercises that can help you relax while you're preparing for your dental procedure. You can also use muscle relaxation exercises, such as progressively tightening and relaxing different groups of muscles.
- Try visualization: Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a relaxing place or positive situation. Imagine what you would see, feel, smell and hear in that location.
- Ask questions: If you're nervous because you don't know what to expect, ask your dentist questions before the procedure starts. Understanding what will happen can ease some of your fears.
- Request sedation: For severe anxiety, your dentist might use various sedation methods that help you relax. Discuss these options before the procedure so you and the dentist are prepared to use them.
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Dentists vary in the strategies they use and how accommodating they are for anxious patients. Some potential strategies include:
- Offering consultations before the procedure to increase comfort
- Giving the patient more control over things like when to start
- Communicating calmly and building trust first
- Reassuring and praising patients
- Offering distractions, such as movies or calming music
- Administering anxiety medication
- Offering varying levels of sedation
Look for a dentist who caters to people with anxiety. They'll likely have more options and better understand how to interact with patients who are scared to climb into the dental chair.
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