Dental Care

Fear of dentist - You are not alone

If you experience fear of dentist (dental fobia) whenever you think about having your teeth checked, you are not alone. 

Think about what you've heard your co-workers or relatives say to someone who is going off to see the dentist-Good luck!  Better you than me!  It's absolutely true that dental phobia is experienced by many people.

Dentistry has advanced to such a level of sophistication today that just about all procedures can be managed comfortably and painlessly.  There has been so much progress in the development of materials that what used to be the impossible is done routinely. 

Equipment is high speed and dreaded procedures are over quickly.  Analgesics used to be administered only for extractions and root canals, but today they are much more effective and appropriate for even the simplest procedures of armchair dentistry.  Fear of dentist can really become a thing of the past

What do you think is causing fear of dentist?  Many patients have volunteered these reasons for avoiding treatment:

  • They are embarrassed about the state of their teeth.
  • They recall a past remark made by a dentist or hygienist about their poor oral care.
  • A friend or relative had an unpleasant experience.
  • The sight of the needles or other equipment is scary.
  • The sound of the drill is unnerving.
  • The idea of instruments placed in the mouth is disturbing.
  • The masks and gloves of the dentist and hygienist are impersonal and can increase fear of dentist.
  • There's a worry that they'll gag, choke, or swallow a foreign object.
  • Only a small percentage reports a past unpleasant dental experience.   One woman says that her childhood dentist never offered Novocain; only when she became a mother and sought dental care with her children did she discover it was available universally.   

Avoiding dental care can create a much more frightening scenario.  If you don't take care of your teeth and gums, you might-you will-experience the following: 

  • A tooth or teeth will develop cavities that will worsen to the point that the tooth must be pulled.
  • Unnecessary tooth loss can affect how your remaining teeth look.  They'll become crooked.  You'll lose your ability to chew foods effectively. 
  • Gum disease can cause speech problems.
  • Dental infection untreated leads to systemic bacterial infection.
  • Gum and tooth infection causes bad breath.
  • Tooth loss can lead to dentures, a much more expensive and irreversible alternative.

Overcome Fear of Dentist

You can overcome your dental phobia.  First of all, when you make your appointment, tell the receptionist that you are fearful.  Many dentists take pride in "catering to cowards," and the staff will take steps to make your visit as painless and comfortable as possible.  This applies whether you're having a dental emergency or a routine visit.  If the receptionist is not responsive when you confide your worries, then shop for another dentist.

Schedule it at a time when you are not pressed with other responsibilities.  Otherwise, you'll use your busy day as a reason to cancel the appointment.  And don't think about your appointment until the day you go.

Ask your dentist if you can listen to your IPod or MP3 player while you're being worked on.  Some dentists even have chair-side earphones for your listening pleasure. 

If that's not an option, tell the hygienist to keep chatting to you during the procedures.  They're usually prepared with conversation, whether it's about the weather or current events, to keep fearful patients' minds occupied.  And they don't expect you to answer!

Tell the dentist up front what you do or don't want to know.  If you don't want to hear how dirty your teeth are while the hygienist cleans them, tell him or her that you don't want to know about your dental condition. 

Tell your dentist in advance that you are terrified of what the x-rays will show.   Tell him if you don't want to know what he's about to do next and you don't want to see the tools.  Let him know your dental fears so he can assuage them.

Arrange a signal between you and your dentist before he begins work, like raising your hand.  Agree that this signal will indicate you are in too much pain for him to continue or that you need more analgesic.  Knowing that you have control over this will do much to ease your fear of dentist.

Practice deep breathing relaxation techniques to help you with your dental phobia.  You will not only learn to relax, but this will also subdue your gag reflex

A caveat:  They don't work if you do them for the first time in the dentist's waiting room!  Try these daily for weeks before you go to the dentist:

  • Inhale deeply; slowly count to five during inhalation.
  • Hold your breath; slowly count to five. 
  • Exhale; use your diaphragm to push the breath out through your lips and slowly count to five. 
  • As you breathe in and out, keep your shoulders still and make certain you are breathing from your diaphragm. 
  • Rotate your ankles in circles and feel your leg muscles relaxing while you do this.

We'd love to hear from you.  Tell us your worst dental experience, or tell us how you overcame fear of dentist. 

Let us know what new information you've learned to make dental visits easier. 

You can also subscribe to our RSS feeds, and we have an E-Zine that will be updated regularly with new program listings. 

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