It is not uncommon to experience feelings of dental anxiety before an appointment. It is something that many people experience in varying forms, from mild apprehension to acute panic attacks. Learning how to cope with dental anxiety may not mean you will love going to the dentist, but it will help you feel calmer and less stressed. Here are 5 tips on how you can engender feelings of serenity and tranquility to save your smile and dental health.
1. Find a Sympathetic Dental Office
These days, many dentists recognize the complex dental anxieties that patients have and take steps to alleviate these worries. This includes building a relationship with honest communication to establish trust. Knowing that you can speak to your dentist about your struggles can go a long way in creating positive, upbeat feelings.
If you haven’t visited a dentist in some time, start slowly with minimally invasive treatment. This could be something that doesn’t need an anesthetic, such as teeth cleaning or dental bonding. Once you see there is nothing to be afraid of, it will build your confidence so that next time you visit the dentist you won’t experience those feelings of dread.
2. Identify Your Fear
The one thing you don’t want to do is put off going to the dentist because of your anxieties. Oral health issues rarely go away without treatment. In fact, you are storing up a host of other problems as they get progressively worse. Eventually, a visit to an emergency dentist may be needed if you are in pain—and the treatment required is likely to be more urgent and complex than the preventive treatments carried out during routine check-ups.
Identifying the reasons why you are scared about going to the dentist could help you to overcome and control those feelings. You may have had a bad experience in the past, or your anxiety could stem from:
- A feeling of lack of control when you are in the dentist’s chair
- Needle phobia
- A fear you will be caused pain
- Embarrassment that you haven’t looked after your mouth
- Worry about the diagnosis
- Being nervous about someone working in your mouth
One step to overcoming your dental anxiety might be to analyze where that disquiet comes from. Young children, for example, may have the idea of a visit to the dentist as being scary. Not because they have had a bad experience, but because they pick up on their parent’s negative experiences. This does not make the fear any less real, but by identifying the source of it, it’s possible to overcome it.
3. Distraction Techniques
A distraction technique is any activity that takes your mind off an upsetting situation. When you distract yourself, the powerful emotions will subside as they are replaced by a new focus on something else. If possible, choose dentists who offer things like blankets, a TV, or listen to music on your smartphone to help keep your attention elsewhere during treatment.
Go with someone supportive—such as a close relative or friend who has no fear of dental work themselves. Then you can chat about other topics while you are traveling there and while you sit in the waiting room. Distraction techniques can be a good way of coping.
4. Relaxation Techniques
It may be surprising to you how much control you have over your body when you find a way of calming it. You can carry out relaxation techniques anywhere – even when you are in the dentist’s chair, and they can immediately slow down your heart rate and help you to feel calmer.
- Deep breathing: Take a deep, controlled breath in, hold the air for a few seconds, and then release very gradually through the mouth or nostrils. Focus on your breathing and repeat as often as you need.
- Visualization: Visualize a place where you are relaxed, happy, and safe. Fill it with details of how it feels, smells, and sounds. Combined with deep breathing, your anxiety will begin to fade away.
- Muscle Relaxation: Focus on tensing and relaxing one body part at a time. Start from the toes and work up until you feel relaxed.
5. Sedation Options
Dentists offer a range of sedation options that can help you to have a carefree experience. Administered in combination with local anesthesia, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is a colorless, odorless gas mixed with oxygen. It is inhaled through a mask placed over the nostrils. Despite its name, you will not be rolling around the chair laughing uncontrollably, although you may have a giggle or two. The gas slows down your body and calms you down. The major benefit of nitrous oxide is that it doesn’t put you to sleep, and you recover almost immediately as soon as the gas is stopped.
Conscious sedation, or twilight anesthesia, is another option. This is typically administered in tablet form and although many patients have no recollection of their procedure with this, they do remain awake and can follow simple instructions from the dentist.
You don’t need to put off your dental care or put up with dental anxiety. There are plenty of options to help you cope, so that you can keep your oral health and smile in great shape—and kick your anxiety away.