By: Gregor McPherson

Dental Anxiety – What you can do to help yourself.

Are you scared of the dentist? You are not alone. I recently read that over a third of the population of the UK suffer from some form of dental anxiety. Whatever the dental issue, you must remind yourself that the dentist is here to help you and even if it takes a little bit of time it will be worth it because you will have a healthy mouth and be pain free.

If you find it difficult getting yourself or a loved one to the dentist here are some simple tips for helping overcome dental fear.

Start by admitting it’s a problem: 

Many people who are afraid of going to the dentist make excuses, to themselves and others, about why they don’t go. They complain that they don’t like their dentists, are too busy and can’t find the time or don’t have the money to go. But, like anything else, you can’t fix a problem until you first admit that a problem exists. Try as best you can to pinpoint where the fear originated: Are you afraid of needles, and need to know how to overcome fear of dental injections? Do you get a sore back in the dentist’s chair? Are you worried you won’t be able to breathe? Did you have a bad experience at the dentist when you were young? You can’t get over a fear until you admit it’s a problem.

Brush up on good dentists in your area: 

Ask for recommendations from friends and family members, particularly those who may have had fears previously and have overcome them. Read reviews of their practice. You might even focus your search on practices who clearly know how to deal with dental anxiety. It doesn’t hurt to look for a dentist who’s funny, either, A study published in the European Journal of Oral Science revealed that humour can significantly reduce dental fear. (Just make sure your dentist’s sense of humour is one you appreciate, or no one will be laughing).

Be honest about your fears: 

Most dentists want more than anything for you to receive the care you need. It starts by getting you into the practice. When you schedule the appointment, mention that you have anxiety about this, and ask if you can meet with the dentist just to talk. This will reveal a lot about how your dentist will attend to your needs. Look for a dentist that listens without judgment and cares enough to figure out how to overcome fear of dental procedures. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” is not an appropriate response because it belittles you and your fears, which may only worsen the problem and cause you to further avoid dentists.

Get accustomed to the tools: 

A tray full of unfamiliar-looking, sharp metal tools can be enough to send you running. What may ease your fear is to have your dentist give you a little “meet-and-greet” time with the tools. Ask if you

can hold them while he or she explains what each one does. This may help them to seem less scary and intimidating.

Be sure that you are in control: 

Your dentist should frequently explain what’s about to happen and how it will feel, then ask for your permission before continuing. Before any work is done, develop a method for communicating with your dentist, even when you aren’t able to talk — nonverbal signals to indicate when something is provoking your fear or causing pain or discomfort, so that the dentist knows to stop. Don’t push yourself to do anything that’s distressing to you — this will only add to the bad associations you have with dental work.

Take breaks: 

A good dentist will take time for breaks, allowing you to ease into the process. You should also feel free to ask for a break at any time if you need to compose yourself.

Bring someone with you: 

Bringing someone you trust, someone who isn’t afraid of dentists, to sit with you during your exam might put you at ease. Plus, that person can speak for you in times when you can’t, adding to your control of the situation.

Take precautions to reduce discomfort: 

If you find the dental chair uncomfortable, ask if your dentist can examine you in a seated, rather than reclining, position. If you breathe mostly through your mouth and worry that you’ll struggle for air, bring nasal strips, which open up the nasal. Afraid of dental injections? Talk to your dentist about whether you can have a topical anesthetic before receiving shots, to alleviate the pain. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedatives or other options may be available. For those with sensitive gag reflexes or a fear of being choked, the x-rays may be your concern. Talk to your dentist about the possibility of panoramic x-rays, which are noninvasive. Many options are available to you that could take the discomfort out of the process, so have a frank conversation with your dentist about how you two can make the dental visit work.

Distract yourself: 

Sometimes the sounds of drills and suction tubes unnerve patients. Wear earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to reduce or eliminate these frightening sounds. Many dental offices offer on-demand movies and TV programs for patients, shown on portable or ceiling-mounted TV screens. Alternatively, bring your smartphone or iPod and some earbuds so you can listen to music. These distractions can help take your mind off what’s happening around you and keep the setting from feeling cold and clinical.

Try techniques for relaxation: 

Meditation, prayer, visualizations and controlled breathing techniques can make a big difference in helping you to relax. For example, the Dental Fears Research Clinic suggests taking a big

breath, holding it and then letting it out very slowly. This helps to slow your heartbeat, relaxing you.

Pay attention to your dentist’s demeanor: 

Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t right, regardless of the dentist’s talent, experience or personality. Pay attention to your gut. A positive relationship is crucial for overcoming your fear of the dentist. If something doesn’t feel right, or if the dentist (or anyone on staff) seems impatient about your fears or unwilling to slow things down, move on. Many dental offices now take great pains to make their offices friendly to dentophobic patients. Many, for example, removing visual cues that could provoke fear by offering non-clinical-looking dental chairs or removing their lab coats. Take the time to find the dentist who’s right for you.

Remember that slow dental work is better than none: 

It may take you a period of weeks or months to complete the dental work you need. This is OK. Don’t let this stop you from starting. Take as long as you need while you work toward overcoming your fear and getting treatment. Doing a little bit at a time in order to keep your fears at bay is better than doing nothing at all.

Take good care of your teeth: 

This is the best tip of all for overcoming dental anxiety. While you’d expect those with dental anxiety to work hard to protect their teeth in order to avoid going to the dentist, sometimes that’s not the case. Brush well, eat right and floss daily, and it’s likely that your next dental visit won’t be nearly as scary.

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