Dental phobia and dental anxiety is a serious issue affecting over 35 million Americans alone. Many people have such an overwhelming fear of dental care that they deal with constant pain and discomfort. Research has shown a definite body/mouth connection. Not maintaining good dental care can have dramatic negative effects on your overall health and well being. In recent years sedation dentistry has become quite popular, but sleeping through dental treatment does not allow you to develop the tools to overcome dental phobia and dental anxiety in a healthy manageable way. Common dental phobias include fear of dental pain, loss of control, and fear of needles or injections.
Top Methods To Cope With Dental Anxiety
Fortunately, both dental anxiety and dental phobia can be overcome with some work from both you and your dentist. You should never let fear stop you from seeking regular dental care. With proper steps taken by patient and dentist, and some patience, those fears will minimize so that you can not only seek treatment, but actually feel comfortable in the dental office. Some of the top methods for coping with dental anxiety and dental phobia include:
-Communication – For many, the dental phobia began as a child. A dentist might have scolded or talked down to their younger patients, making them feel like they did not have a voice in their treatment or even when it was uncomfortable for them. Even adults have reported these similar feelings, where they feel they might be ridiculed for being afraid. Open lines of communication can give back a full sense of control over your dental treatment. This control helps to decrease the feeling of helplessness. Being a part of the decision making on treatment, knowing what to expect, and knowing if you feel uncomfortable your dentist will stop, can make any dental patient feel better. Communication and control can be the differentiating factor between those suffering from dental phobia and dental anxiety, and those who have found a way to work past it. A good tip is, if you are anxious about something just come right out and talk to the dentist about it.
-“Talk” with your hands. Most dentists will give their patients hand signals to communicate. This is very important for those suffering from dental phobia. This gives the patients an increased control knowing the dentist can till listen to them while dental care is ongoing.
-Distractions – Developing the ability to take control of your mind and allow yourself to be distracted from the dental treatment. The top ways to achieve distraction are:
1) meditation - a relaxation of mind and body musculature.
2) audio distraction - listening to music, or the voice of your dentist while they talk you through the process with casual conversation. Even the sound of a soothing voice can lower anxiety levels. A good tip is to listen to an audio book while undergoing treatment. This will engage your ears and your mind to distract you from the task at hand.
3) visual distraction– watching television or a movie, even staring at a relaxing picture during dental treatment. For many, wearing headphones can help to block out much of the dental noises that increase their anxiety, listening to a personal story about the dentist, visualizing a relaxing setting, and muscle relaxation can make the experience much more tolerable and possibly even enjoyable!
-Be Prepared - Ask your dentist in advance what you can expect during your visit and how procedures, such as injections, are handled. Some may enjoy hearing a play by play and others will not. Talk it over with your dentist when going through your initial dental examination.
-Muscle Relaxation Techniques - The key here is to place focus on your body parts, relaxing them one at a time. You can start with your toes or hands and work your way across your body, squeezing then relaxing each area of your body progressively. This removes your focus on the dental care and places it on your body achieving the goal of relaxing and calming yourself. Try squeezing a stress ball in 1 or both hands.
-Take A Mini Vacation In Your Mind! - To help ease your nerves and control pain during dental treatment, imagine yourself in a relaxing, enjoyable setting. For example, visualize calming colors or scenes such as the ocean, think about the sound of the waves as you relax on your favorite beach or, if you enjoy hiking, imagine yourself walking along a trail next to a river. The more detail you add to the image, the less focused you will be on the dental procedure. This technique takes practice initially, but once you gain confidence in yourself and your dentist it will get easier to do. If you find that your mind drifts away from your image, gently turn your attention back to the scene you created. Try practicing meditation with visualization at home before your appointment when you feel stressed about upcoming dental treatment.
-Breathing Exercises - This is a great technique for your drive over to the dental office, or while waiting for your appointment. Deep breathing can be a great technique to relax your mind and body prior to dental work. By taking in slow, deep breaths, the oxygen flow will have a calming effect on your entire body. Remember, slow and deep, NOT short and fast, as this can cause you to hyperventilate.
-Take Frequent Breaks. Patients may need to take breaks during dental procedures, when anxiety builds up or they start to feel claustrophobic. If you feel like you need a break, let your dentist know and he/she will gladly stop to give you the time and space necessary.
-Acupuncture/Acupressure - Acupuncture/acupressure have many benefits for patients who are dentally anxious. For this to be fully effective, the acupuncture should be completed as close to the dental appointment as possible, while some acupressure can be done during the dental appointment. This will not work for all patients but it has been a successful technique for many in attempting to overcome dental phobia and dental anxiety.
The key to overcoming and coping with your dental fear is to remember that you are not alone. If you choose the right dentist and dental team, they will be with you every step of the way, guiding you to help you overcome your fears. In the beginning it may seem insurmountable but one step and one appointment at a time, and the visits become easier and easier. You might actually begin to wonder why you didn’t do this earlier. Do not let dental phobia prevent you from being healthy in all aspects of your life. Take control of your health today!