Dear Dentist, How Do I Get Over My Dental Anxiety?

Monday, May 29, 2017
Dear Dentist, How Do I Get Over My Dental Anxiety?

You’re not the only one who has dental anxiety.

If you experience stress or anxiety related to visiting the dentist, rest assured that you are not alone. A meta-study that included populations from around the world found that 10-30% of people are affected by dental anxiety. While this statistic varies depending on sample selection and sociocultural variables, it provides proof that you are not alone.

If your anxiety is holding you back from making an appointment, you probably have more than a case of simple nerves. It is important to realize people aren’t born fearing the dentist. Most fears can be traced back to one or more negative experiences with the dentist. Unfortunately, these fears may be inadvertently reinforced with subsequent visits.

Getting over your dental anxiety

When a dental appointment approached in past, did you notice sweaty palms, an increased heart rate, and a knot in your stomach? These unpleasant sensations can further magnify any fear associated with the dentist, even if the overall experience wasn’t negative. Dental anxiety affects many people precisely because they don’t experience an oral examination in the dental chair every day, so a single memory can be amplified.

Fortunately, there are actions that you and your dentist can take to help manage and even reduce your dental anxiety.

Managing Dental Anxiety

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no real danger; it is a type of anxiety disorder. To overcome a phobia, it is necessary to develop positive feelings and associations with the source of the fear. In the case of dental phobia and anxiety, positive associations must be developed with the dentist. Also, speaking openly with your dentist about your fears can help you tackle them. Your dentist, in turn, can provide treatment in a way that is sensitive to your needs.

Try These Dental Anxiety Tips to Improve Your Experience:

  • Your dentist should listen carefully and may ask clarifying questions. Respond honestly and directly so that the dentist can make changes to the method of treatment. Don’t feel guilty or worried; instead, focus on speaking as clearly as possible about your concerns.
  • Focus on breathing regularly and slowly. Being nervous may cause you to hold your breath, which decreases oxygen levels and exacerbates panic. Slow breathing has been shown to reduce stress.
  • Consider bringing headphones and listening to music. If the sounds of dental work trigger your anxiety, then listening to your favorite tunes can help to promote feelings of relaxation.
  • Watch what you eat and drink before the appointment. Avoid caffeine and sugars, which may increase anxiety. A diet of high-protein foods, fruits, and vegetables can produce a calming effect.
  • Talk to your dentist about the possibility of extending the appointment time length. Since your goal is to create new, positive dental memories to erase the bad ones, you shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured. Don’t settle on a dentist until you find one who is willing to give you the time you need and make adjustments to ensure your comfort throughout the visit.
  • Set a separate time to talk to your dentist about fees and dental anxiety treatment options. Your dentist should explain exactly what will happen during treatment so that you know what to expect. You might want to use hand signals to communicate with the dentist throughout the procedure; for example, you might raise a hand to ask for a break or gives a thumbs up to indicate you are okay to continue. Remember, your goal is to reduce your fear as well as to treat your teeth.

Imagine a trusting relationship with your dentist, one that allows you to feel completely comfortable throughout your procedure. We want you to come out of your experience not only with better teeth but also a more tranquil state of mind.

Penn Dental Family Practice is experienced in working with patients who suffer from dental anxiety. We provide patient-centered care that is sensitive to your needs because we believe your dental visit should always be a positive experience. To make your appointment with a Penn Dental Family Practice dentist, please call 215-898-7337 or fill out our patient contact form.