Despite modern dentistry being a largely pain-free experience for the vast majority, there are still many among us who are still afraid of the dentist. Ask any group what they are afraid of and dentistry often will crop up fairly high on the list.
Some studies report up to three quarters of US adults having at least a small degree of dental anxiety, and 5-10% report phobia of the dentist. Phobic patients will tend to avoid going to the dentist completely.
Fear of dentists is often multifactorial, with a lot of elements involved. Unfortunately many people acquire a fear indirectly through negative media and social reporting. On the brighter side, once those that are nervous actually face their fears, they are often pleasantly surprised by modern dentistry!
Here we look at the common factors and provide some tips and useful resources on dealing with them.
The thought of pain of any kind will elicit fear in almost all of us. Dentistry has long been associated with pain. But remember: dental science and techniques are better than they have ever been. It is likely that you will be more comfortable than you imagine both during and after the procedure. One thing is for sure: early detection and treatment is always more comfortable!
Having had an unpleasant dental experience in the past is a big contributor to current anxiety. Controlling pain while on the dental chair may not have been the priority decades ago, but it is now!! Techniques have moved on considerably and your dentist is there to help you through any treatment.
Inform your dentist of your fear of pain. There may be extra things s/he can do to help you cope, including the use of sedation techniques.
2. The Unknown
There are at least two fears regarding the unknown:
- First, it is common to fear what you don’t understand and since most people are not dental experts, they may be afraid of falling victim to a faulty diagnosis by an incompetent or even crooked doctor.
- Second, some people actually may be worried about being told the truth about their dental condition – anticipating a bad report. Either way, this fear of the unknown may cause you to delay dental treatment.
One way to overcome the first worry is to simply do your homework. Read some online articles on the various treatments to help demystify them. Check out the reviews of your dentist online or with friends, family members, co-workers, etc. Any finally ask your dentist to talk you through first the rationale for any treatment you need, and specific details about the procedures, if you think this will help.
Addressing the second fear is not as easy. It is one of those things that everyone has to face head on at some point in their life… BUT one thing we can say for certain is that dental problems, procedures and costs only get more extensive and more expensive the longer you delay treatment.
Bottom line: face your fears. The sooner the better! Of course this may not be easy, but it won’t be any easier in the future should you let your oral health deteriorate.
3. Lack of Control
Lying back on the chair, with your mouth open and completely giving up control to a relative stranger is unnatural and not easy for many of us.
Most dental professionals are very aware of this particular phobia and gladly offer to shift the balance of power back toward the patient by allowing you to raise your hand and stop the procedure at any given moment or control the saliva suction device during the appointment.
We can also recycle the practicality of iPods and video players as a means of transferring your control to an electronic device and effectively distracting you from your perceived lack of control during the appointment. It may sound like a cheap trick but it works!
4. Confined Spaces
Like the above; leaning back in a dental chair nearly upside down with 2 or 3 people hovering all around you and in your personal space is enough to make anyone feel a bit claustrophobic. Relaxation techniques and distractions may not be enough to overcome this fear.
In that case you may wish to ask your doctor about the possibility of medications such as Valium, nitrous oxide or even I.V. sedation to put you in a more relaxed state.
5. Equipment, including the needle
Fear of needles (“Aichmophobia“) is another common one, both in and out of the dental setting.
Simply inform your dentist that you have no desire to see the equipment or hear a detailed description of what is happening. The dental team can easily cover up the equipment before the procedure starts and maybe even provide you with “black out glasses” or an eye mask that will prevent you from seeing any of the “terrifying” equipment.
6. Loud noises
Inform your dentist of this concern. While it may be impossible to totally eliminate the annoying shriek of the dental drill; it may be possible to reduce it and/or distract yourself enough to overcome this deterrent to treatment. Your dentist may be able to offer you unique suggestions to deal with this issue that he has found successful.
Additionally, you might consider listening to your iPod or watching videos along with noise cancelling headphones. Many have found this effective in reducing the noises enough to allow them to get through necessary dental procedures.
Almost equally disturbing as the annoying sounds of the dental office is that often pungent “dental office smell”. Some facilities may provide aromatherapy in the individual treatment rooms or even pump in soothing fragrances through the entire office to help reduce this.
If smells really annoy you, you may take a few “scouting trips” to find an office that is less offensive to your nose, but in the end it is worth the effort to find an aromatically pleasing dental home.
8. Cost $$$
Inform your dentist that you have concerns regarding your dental budget. There is nothing wrong with asking for a detailed description of the diagnosis, the recommended treatment and the corresponding fees before proceeding with treatment.
In fact, most good dentists would prefer you to have this information up front to help you make decisions that are in line with your treatment priorities and your budget. While treatment plans will vary depending on your budget, try not to let cost put you off getting work done altogether – As you will only have to pay more further down the line.
9. Gag Reflex
If you have a gag reflex, going to the dentist has an added worry. Newer techniques or technologies may be available that reduce or eliminate the problem. For example, many people gag on getting x-rays taken. However, the doctor may be able to offer your digital and/or panoramic x-rays which are often more comfortable than traditional methods.
You can also do your part; relaxation techniques, controlled breathing and distractions such as music or videos can work wonders to help reduce the gagging. Some people find that a gag reflex is stronger in the morning and thus schedule afternoon appointments. With very strong gag reflexes, nitrous oxide can help greatly.
10. Being Unable to Breath
Inform your dentist of this concern. There are many modern techniques and technologies that have been developed to help with this problem and your dentist may have a specific recommendation in this regard. If not, just like with fear of gagging and confined spaces, you may benefit from relaxation techniques, distractions or medications to reduce your anxiety and help you “breath easier” as it were.
In case you missed it, a common theme of the above suggestions involves “informing your dentist of your concerns”. Yes, a comfortable dental experience will always depend on good communication and collaboration between the dental team and the patient. Most modern dental professionals are skilled in advanced techniques and technologies designed to give you the best dental experience possible.
On the other hand, most patients are NOT so skilled at facing their fears. So, we encourage you to identify your apprehensions and fears and then effectively communicate them to your dental team. Then be proactive with preventive and restorative recommendations to keep your dental appointments less extensive and less expensive.
Further help for dental phobics (those that cannot attend the dentist due to their overwhelming anxiety) involves behavorial techniques and sedative medications.
Early detection and treatment is ideal and will go a long way to alleviating your dental fears!