If the buzzing sound of a dental drill or the latex smell of the office gives you familiar chills, rather than making a dental appointment, you're not alone. Millions of people avoid getting necessary treatment because they fear going to the dentist. Although there may be many reasons for your anxiety, however, modern dentistry and those trained to help dental-phobic patients can make facing your fears less frightening than you think.
Phobia vs. Anxiety
Those who feel some nervousness or stress before a dental appointment are grappling with a type of anxiety that is fairly common, especially if they need treatment beyond a basic cleaning and examination. But an individual with a dental phobia has such an intense fear, just the thought of going to the dentist can throw them into panic, causing them to avoid the dentist entirely unless they are in tremendous pain.
Dr. Siegelman, a Manhattan dentist who specializes in treating people with extreme dental phobias, describes a notable loss of sleep before dental appointments, along with a pounding heart, sweaty hands and involuntary "fight or flight" responses to a perceived threat to their comfort or well-being.
Causes of Fear
Someone with an intense fear of the dentist is usually reacting to memories of a past unpleasant experience, whether it's the result of a painful incident or similarly upsetting life event. Those who experience mild anxiety before a dental appointment, on the other hand, may just be nervous about a procedure they have yet to experience. Still others equate a dental visit with pain because their last experience wasn't as pleasant as today's pain-free dentistry allows.
Fear of needles or a sensitive gag reflex can also cause people to avoid going to the dentist, as can the embarrassment of someone seeing the condition of their teeth if they haven't been treated in a while. Feelings of helplessness or loss of control when in the dental chair can create phobias as well. They can even come out of flippant or insensitive remarks by a dentist or another staff member. Keep in mind the apprehension of going to the dentist can also be learned and passed down from parent to child.
If you haven't been to a dentist for over a year because of a deep-seated fear, your teeth and gums may be paying the price. The good news is dentists today understand these fears and are doing what they can to make dental appointments more comfortable for their patients. For example, dental offices now take on friendlier environments than in the past, with cozy waiting rooms, soothing music and staff who know how to make the appointment feel less like a formal event. So don't be embarrassed to discuss your concerns and fears with your dentist. Together, according to Dental Fear Central, you can customize solutions to reduce your stress level during future treatment.
Your dentist may ease you into dental treatment by scheduling simple procedures like exams and cleaning before starting more complicated procedures. He or she may even suggest some form of anesthesia or sedation to eliminate pain and anxiety during this stage of treatment. Dentists often use distraction to allay fears, too – headphones for music or goggles for watching videos, both of which can divert your attention away from the process itself. Of course, nervous patients should consider using their own relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or imagining themselves in a pacifying place – like lying on a beach listening to the sound of the surf.
Avoiding Fear with Prevention
Regular dental checkups and cleanings are always important to keeping your mouth healthy. But it's the oral care at home that can keep you from needing more complicated procedures. Whether or not you have a fear of the dentist, brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste like Colgate® Cavity Protection, floss at least once daily and limit sugary snacks between your main courses.
As you and your dentist work to make your visits stress-free, it won't take long until intense fears and distress start to lessen. And as each dental appointment becomes easier, your teeth and gums will become healthier.