Dental Fear - What is it and How to Get Over ItIf you're afraid of going to the dentist, you're not alone. A British Dental Association survey revealed that 25% of British people experience some degree of fear of going to the dentist, or dental phobia, and a survey by the American Association of Endodontists showed that a massive 80% of American adults are afraid of the dentist and, of those, half say that their fear prevents them from scheduling a check-up. So, what exactly is dental fear and what can be done to get over it?
There are several levels of dental fear. On the low end of the scale is a simple fear of the unknown which may manifest itself as a simple reluctance to visit the dentist. On the other end of the scale, there is full-blown dental phobia. Here anything related to dentistry or dental care, such as an advertisement for mouthwash, can induce severe feelings of stress or panic.
There are many possible causes of dental fear, including negative childhood experiences at the dentists, fear of loss of control, fear of needles or the dentist's drill, or that one's personal space is being invaded.
The impact of dental fear on someone's life obviously depends on its severity, but in many cases it causes the patient to feel a sense of dread before and during every visit to the dentist. Prior to their appointment, they may find themselves increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of what will happen, unable to sleep, and in more severe cases, may experience a sense of extreme anxiety, and even panic.
A large number of people actually experience fear so acutely that they avoid going to see dentists for check-ups, or even when they are clearly in need of treatment. They may put up with abscesses, infected gums and toothache rather than go to the dentist, and some will even put up with pain so bad that they are unable to eat with part of their mouths.
When dental fear leads to the avoidance of necessary treatment, initial problems such as poor dental health, pain and stress can quickly become much more serious: dental problems have been shown to cause or worsen other health problems in the body, such as heart disease and diabetes.
In addition to facing potentially serious health issues, people who neglect dental problems for whatever reason typically find themselves facing much higher financial costs as more extensive dental treatment becomes necessary. Additionally, there are also the inevitable costs to the person's confidence and peace-of-mind that so often accompany poor dental and general health. It is therefore important that people with dental fear do not allow it to prevent them from receiving regular check-ups and, when necessary, treatment.
So what can be done about dental fear? Here are some simple steps that can help alleviate or completely remove fear of the dentist:
First of all, it's important to understand that dental technology has moved on a lot in the past few years, and if your fear is based on painful prior experiences, you can feel reassured that things are likely to be much easier and less painful now. For example, if you're afraid of injections, dentists can now use a gel that numbs your gum before an injection so that you don't even feel it. Or you can ask about the variety of sedation options that are available.
In recent years, dentists have become much more aware of the importance of reassuring patients and putting them at ease. A lot of dentists make special efforts to make their clinics as inviting and relaxing as possible, with pleasant interiors and a friendly team. Many offer counselling and will be happy just to talk you through the options available to you. The keys here are to find a dentist that specialises in treating nervous patients and that you feel comfortable with. It's really worth looking around and, with so many dentists available in most areas, there is no reason to continue with a dentist you cannot relax with or one you feel is not the best for the job.
Before you even go to see a dentist, try to work out why you have your fear: when did you first begin to feel it? Was there any particular cause? Often fear of the dentist is very generalised, but if you can pinpoint the cause of your fear, or what exactly you're afraid of, you'll be able to discuss this with the dentist and he or she will be able to put you at ease.
If you're very scared, you can follow a progressive approach to your dental care by working up to your treatment over a series of visits. This will give you greater and greater confidence in visiting the dentist. For example, your first visit could just be to discuss various options and to talk with your dentist, and maybe to receive some counselling. Your second visit could be for a very basic check where the dentist uses only a mirror, and then in your next appointment, you could progress to a simple clean and polish.
Many patients feel stressed because they perceive themselves to be helpless while at the dentists. To reduce this feeling, consider agreeing on a "stop" sign with the dentist: when you make a certain gesture he or she will stop treatment and let you take a break or ask questions. A simple strategy such as this can give a major boost to your confidence and help you to relax.
Other things you can do to relax while at the dentist include keeping your mind focused on something more pleasant than your treatment. Consider listening to some music, an audio book or a speech or lecture: your dentist should be happy for you to take your iPod or music player in with you, and some will be happy to play your music over speakers in the treatment room.
While you're in the dentist's chair, you can also use mental exercises or games to take your attention off your treatment. You can also make plans, think of something to reward yourself after your appointment, or just think about some of your happy memories (or ways to create new ones!) You can even set yourself physical challenges to do, like trying to wriggle each of your toes individually! Before you go to the dentist, try to think of some ways you can channel your attention onto something that will help you to relax.
A few other ideas to help you relax:
- Find organisations that specialise in helping people with phobias (ask your doctor and check local healthcare websites)
- Consider hypnosis to help you get over your fears: for some people the results can be incredibly powerful
- Take a friend with you to the dentists
- Eat something before you go so you don't feel faint during treatment
Whatever you decide to do, the best way to get over your fear of the dentist long term is first to accept that dental care by a skilled dentist is essential to your overall health and well-being, and then to make dental treatment almost unnecessary, so that you don't actually need anything beyond the occasional check-up and cleaning. Take good care of your teeth by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss regularly and look after your general health. By doing so, you'll soon get into a cycle where you see your dentist just twice a year for routine check-ups that are over in just a few minutes and without any pain. When you get to this stage, you'll be able to realise that visiting the dentist is no longer a major cause of concern for you, and is actually just "routine."