Does visiting the dentist make you feel a little nervous? Does just the thought of reclining in a dentist’s chair make your heart beat faster? You are not alone.
Dental anxiety is very common experience, even for adults. Studies estimate up to 15% of Americans experience dental anxiety — that’s over 40 million people! The unfortunate reality is many people will allow their fear of dentists to prevent them from seeking much needed dental care. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It is possible to overcome dental anxiety. Let’s take a look at the causes of dental anxiety, strategies to overcome it, and why it’s so important to do so.
Causes of Dental Anxiety
Dental anxiety can happen for any number of reasons. It’s different for everyone. Here are a few common causes of dental anxiety that may resonate with you:
Previous Bad Experiences
If you’ve had a bad experience with a dentist in the past, especially at a young age, you may be more likely to experience dental anxiety. It’s a natural reaction. If you experienced pain or fear in a dental environment before, anxiety can be an almost automatic response despite all logic and reasoning.
Loss of Control
For many, the most anxiety-inducing part of dental work is the sense of loss of control. Lying back in a dentist’s chair and having professionals work on your teeth can make you feel vulnerable. But as we will see, the feeling of lost control is an illusion.
Fear of Embarrassment
Dental professionals get up close and personal when working on your teeth. The nature of the work can sometimes lead to awkward or embarrassing situations. Anxiety based in a fear of embarrassment is your body’s effort to protect you
It’s no secret that “horror stories” about dental work exist in our society. You can see them played out on TV, in movies, or in stories shared between friends. It seems everyone knows a story about a painful dental experience. These “horror stories” play on our basic instincts to fear pain. It’s no wonder they contribute to dental anxiety.
Why It’s Important To Take The Leap
Your dental anxiety may convince you it’s ok to skip a dental appointment here and there. It’s no big deal, right? You brush your teeth enough. You haven’t noticed any problems. But this way of thinking can be detrimental to your health.
Regular dental check-ups and cleanings can help identify health problems you aren’t aware of. In addition to basic plaque, tartar, and cavity checks, your dentist also looks for:
- Oral cancer
- Gum disease
- Jawbone decay, swelling, cysts, or tumors
- Head, neck, jaw, and lymph node issues
Dental anxiety can feel debilitating, but it’s vital to your overall health to get dental care. If you’re not seeing a dentist every six months, as recommended, you put yourself at risk of developing larger health problems.
How To Overcome Dental Anxiety
Talk To Your Dentist
Let your dentist know that you are experiencing anxiety. It’s a very common occurrence, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed. It’s best to just be honest with your dentist. Together, you can work out a strategy to help put you at ease.
For example, you can decide whether you’d like your dentist to talk about what they’re doing, talk about something else, or to not talk at all. Perhaps you’d prefer to listen to music or an audiobook. You can also discuss treatment options to help, such as various levels of sedation.
It all starts with an honest conversation.
Know You Are Actually In Control
Laying back in a dentist’s chair while people poke around inside your mouth can feel like a very compromising position. Especially for people who identify as “control freaks,” feeling this vulnerable can be a real challenge.
Despite what you may feel, you are actually in total control. Before dental work begins, identify a signal you can use to let the professionals know you need them to stop. A simple hand raise or lift of a finger will often suffice.
If at any point you feel uncomfortable or in pain, you can get relief with one simple motion. The dental professionals will stop and reassess the situation with you to make you as comfortable as possible.
Use Mental Visualization Techniques
Some people find it helps to use mental visualization techniques to control their anxiety. For example, you can visualize yourself in a peaceful place like a beach to help you relax. You can also try to use a mantra to guide your thoughts in a positive direction. Repeating phrases such as “I am okay” or “I am safe” can help you to stay calm. These techniques may not work for everyone, but they are certainly worth a try.
Create The Ideal Environment
Part of dental anxiety can come from the environment itself. Despite the dentist’s best efforts, some people just don’t feel comfortable in a dentist’s office no matter how nice it is.
The good news is that you can take steps to create the ideal environment for you. Here are a few things you can try:
- Bring a friend or family member to help you feel comfortable
- Bring your own favorite music and headphones
- Bring your own sunglasses (dentist-provided glasses can be uncomfortable)
- Bring a worry stone or stress-relief ball
Take The First Step
Remember, regular dental care is an important part of your overall health. It can be slightly painful or uncomfortable at times, but you are never in any real danger. Besides, a lot of healthcare treatments can be uncomfortable. No one enjoys getting mammograms or prostate checks, but they do them anyway because it’s important.
Dental anxiety can feel overwhelming, but you have the power to take control and make positive decisions for your health.
If you’re ready to take the first step, make an appointment with Timberhill Dentistry in Corvallis, Oregon. Dr. Black and his team work with patients who experience all different levels of dental anxiety to help them feel comfortable and relaxed.
No matter how long it’s been since your last dental check-up, you are welcome at Timberhill Dentistry. We’re happy you are fighting back against dental anxiety, and we’re here to help. Contact us today to get started.
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