For many people, dental anxiety (or dental phobia, its more intense form) is a debilitating condition that makes them so fearful of going to the dentist that they either put it off for years, or even never go at all. According to Bupa, around one in ten adults has some form of extreme dental anxiety, and the high volume of calls to the British Dental Health Foundation is further evidence that this is a widespread problem. Their adviser, Karen Coates, explained: “People who are scared of the dentist often call us for help. They’re at the end of their tether. Their teeth don’t look nice any more or they’re in a lot of pain with toothache. They want to make the first step to seeing a dentist.”
How can a fear of the dentist be overcome?
The prevalence of dental anxieties and phobias means there are now a number of accepted effective strategies to battle against it. Patients with a fear of the dentist should do their best to bring these methods into play. Just because you’ve long had a fear of the dentist, it doesn’t mean you always will do. Your dental fears can decrease over time if you take the right steps.
Let your dentist know about your problem
One of the first things you should do is let your dentist, dentist’s assistant or receptionist at your dental surgery know about your condition, as they might have set procedures which they put in place to make the experience more comfortable for you. Feelings of trust can be engendered simply by getting to know your dental team better as you spend more time with them. There are even some surgeries which specialise in treating patients that have a fear of the dentist, so make an effort to seek these out.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Some people that experience dental anxiety might be nervous or embarrassed to ask questions before a procedure. This is the opposite approach from the one they should be taking. By understanding a procedure fully, patients can give themselves the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what they can expect. You should always ask the dentist to explain anything you are not sure about. Ask as many questions as you like.
Distract your mind
The more we think stressful thoughts, the more we can make a situation worse than it needs to be. For this reason, it can help to use practiced mind exercises before and during dental treatment in order to distract the brain from the process about to take place, or currently being undergone. This can be anything from solving a mind puzzle, planning out your schedule for the next few days, or silently ‘playing’ a favourite song in your head and mentally singing along. Or, take an iPod or mobile phone into the surgery with you, if permitted, to calm yourself down when you are in the dentist chair. As in other stressful situations, many patients feel a lot more relaxed if a friend comes with them to keep them company, both in the waiting room and treatment room itself.
Hypnosis, relaxation, sedation and/or counselling
Some practices offer hypnosis as a treatment to relax and sedate patients before dental treatment. This might not work for everybody, but is a method of calming the body and mind for many. It is important that even with hypnotherapy treatment, a patient should still have an awareness of their surroundings and be conscious during many treatments. Sedation via gas and air inhalation is another way of reducing distress, and for a more in depth examination of the mind set that causes dental anxiety and formation of strategies to deal with it, counselling is another option for those that wish to be rid of the fear once and for all.
Establish a stop system/signal
Much of the fear behind dental anxiety stems from the ‘helplessness’ that comes with putting a vulnerable part of yourself in the hands of another person, and not having any control over what they then do. Sufferers that commonly experience extreme discomfort can agree a system with the dental team, whereby they would stop any procedure at the request of the patient by way of a sign system, which shows the dental team that the patient wishes them to stop. They can then take a break while the patient recovers their composure.
Get it over with early in the day
Jose Mourinho, the manager of Manchester United, once explained that he prefers early kick off times for games because they offer less opportunity to dwell on the upcoming match. The same theory can be applied to dental treatments for those with anxiety. If you spend all day stressing about an afternoon appointment, you will likely have reached a state of extreme anxiety by the time the treatment comes around. Cut down on the amount of time before your appointment by booking yourself in for a morning appointment.
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