Be honest: when was the last time you went to the dentist?
If you answered immediately and can easily recall your last visit, good for you! Sounds like you are taking great care of your teeth and being proactive about dental hygiene.
However, if you stammered or hesitated to answer that question, chances are you’re overdue for a cleaning and checkup. It’s also likely that you suffer from dentophobia, or fear of the dentist. Read on to learn more about why so many people have such an anxiety-ridden relationship with this healthcare provider, and how to move past your phobia to get the dental treatment you need.
What’s Behind Fear of the Dentist?
One of the most common reasons people fear going to the dentist is that they’ve had a negative experience in the past. Maybe it was an incompetent provider, or perhaps an oversight or ordinary mistake led to the patient feeling unnecessary pain.
No matter what the reason for that negative experience, the resulting trauma can have a lifelong effect. And the trauma doesn’t even have to be first-hand; plenty of people have “horror stories” about going to the dentist, and hearing those can easily trigger fear even for those who haven’t personally experienced a bad dental visit.
Embarrassment is another common source of dentophobia. Sitting in a dentist’s chair with your mouth wide open, unable to talk, may make you feel uncomfortably vulnerable. You might be afraid that you have bad breath or unsightly teeth. And if you have skipped regular cleanings or even avoided treatment for dental problems, you might be embarrassed about your poor dental habits and afraid that the dentist will scold you.
There are plenty of other reasons to fear the dentist, as well. The noise of dentist’s drills, the smell of a dental office, fear of needles, and plain old fear of pain can all contribute to dentophobia.
Communication Is Key
So you’ve taken your courage in hand and decided to call a dental practice for an appointment. Congratulations! That’s a huge first step. And believe it or not, there are more steps you can take to actively lessen any fear you might be feeling — before you even get into the dentist’s office.
When you call to set up that appointment, let the receptionist know that you have anxiety or fear related to dental work. You can request a consultation with the dentist, and you don’t have to book an actual procedure for the first visit. Any dental professional worth their salt will happily meet with a prospective patient to map out a treatment plan and answer questions.
“We understand how uneasy some patients can feel about their dental visits,” says Midlothian dentist Dr. Robert Neighbors. “We know that we can make a difference by providing a relaxing and positive experience.”
If, for whatever reason, you don’t hit it off with the dentist or she fails to put you at ease, it’s perfectly fine to decline treatment and seek another provider. It’s important that you feel comfortable with not only the dentist herself, but with hygienists and other staff members as well.
Distract Yourself During the Appointment
Before it comes time to open wide, arrange a signal with the providers who will be treating you. If you need a break or feel something isn’t right, use that signal to let them know and resolve any issues.
It’s also a good idea to bring headphones and a favorite CD, a podcast, or an audiobook to distract yourself while the work is being done. Some dental practices offer in-chair DVD viewing or a selection of music for their patients.
Meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing exercises can also do wonders to alleviate anxiety and help you through a dental appointment. Research and practice mindful breathing in advance, so that you know what to do when the time comes to do it.
You can even download a guided meditation session to listen to during the procedure. Ask your dentist in advance how long she expects the session to last, then search YouTube for a meditation that lasts the same amount of time.
No More Dental Phobia
After discussing your fear and anxiety with your dentist, and working together with the practice’s staff to control as many variables as possible, you might even be surprised at how well you handle being in the dentist’s chair. It’s human nature to build up anxiety of the unknown and even to anticipate the worst outcome, and the reality might not be nearly as bad as you imagined.
Have you overcome dentophobia, and if so, how did you do it? Does your dental practice offer any particular perks or services that help reduce patients’ anxiety? Let us know in the comment section!