Dental anxiety is very common and is described as the feeling of being nervous or afraid of going to the dentist. Common fears include fear of dental pain, loss of control, the clinical environment, and needle phobia. Dentists are used to treating nervous patients and have a range of solutions for making the visit easier, including distraction techniques, the ‘dental wand’ for easier delivery of local anaesthetic, and light sedation. Those who are very anxious can also prepare for the dentist visit by talking it through with the dental practice or a GP beforehand, or having hypnotherapy.
What is dental anxiety or dental phobia?
Dental anxiety is the feeling of being nervous or afraid of going to the dentist. It can be experienced in varying degrees of severity, from a slight feeling of uneasiness at having to visit the dentist, to a highly prohibitive phobia.
There are a variety of reasons you might have a fear of the dentist and feel anxious about getting dental treatment. Here are the most common reasons:
- A fear about specific procedures (such as fillings) causing dental pain.
- The intimacy of a check-up and feeling of loss of control.
- Being scolded about the state of your oral health.
- A negative past experience at the dentist.
- The sterile smell and the clinical environment.
- Phobia about needles.
The good news is that, whatever the reason for your discomfort, there are a number of ways to deal with dental anxiety and take steps towards overcoming it. The most important thing to remember is that avoiding regular check-ups can be seriously detrimental to your oral hygiene. When you do not go to the dentist for long time it often makes you fear it even more, creating a negative cycle of poor oral health and neglect that can lead to serious health conditions. Many people who have dental phobia also pass it on to their children in this way.
How common is dental anxiety or dental phobia?
Dental anxiety or phobia is very common, and dentists see nervous patients nearly every day. You should not feel apprehensive or embarrassed to say that you are nervous - in fact letting your dentist know will give them a much better chance to give you a good experience. They will talk it through with you and let you know what can be done to make you feel more at ease.
Dental phobia is so common there are a number of resources to hand to help you understand what can be done, and where you should seek help. There is a directory of dentists specialised in seeing anxious or nervous patients.
What can I do before an appointment if I am nervous?
There are numerous ways to prepare for a dental appointment.
Arming yourself with more knowledge about what to expect from a dentist visit, or a particular, procedure, is a good tactic. Do research using trusted health websites and organisations and speak to experts and other people who have undergone a particular treatment.
Talk to the dental practice
If you are worried or have questions, it’s always best to go straight to the source. Pay a visit to the practice you are thinking of attending and speak to the practice reception about your concern. They will be able to advise you what help is available, and what steps to take. Some dentists and dental practices specialise in treating people who suffer from dental anxiety, and can be found online. You can ask if it is possible to book an appointment simply to come in to talk about treatment options beforehand, which will allow you to develop a relationship with the dentist before any work is carried out. You could also consider staying with the same dentist for subsequent visits, as you will become increasingly comfortable with them over time.
Talk to a GP
Alternatively, your GP may be able to put you forward to a professional specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy; a technique that can be used to change the way you think about certain aspects of life. This could be especially effective if your anxiety is based on a bad experience during childhood and has prevented you from visiting a dentist for years. Once you have dealt with the underlying anxiety in this way, you should find it easier to visit the dentist.
Though not a medically certified way to cure anxiety, it does help many people feel more relaxed and better able to cope with certain situations. It works by using the power of suggestion to help alter your mental approach to certain problems and overcome obstacles in your thinking. Hypnotherapy can only be performed by an experienced professional, such as an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) expert, or a behavioural therapist. They will be able to talk you through the process in detail. Despite common perceptions of hypnosis, you will not be under anyone's power or unable to exercise self-control. You will be conscious and aware of your surroundings, and able to remember events as they occur.
What can be done at the dental practice if I am nervous?
Talk to the dentist
The best, and first, course of action is to speak with your dentist before the examination or treatment to make the situation clear. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand what to expect, and what help is available.
The distraction technique
Dental anxiety is essentially psychological, so this is perhaps the most straightforward strategy to use. It involves using a pleasant stimulus to keep your mind off the procedure itself and help you to relax. For example, depending on the practice facilities available, you might be able to watch a DVD, or listen to some music or an audio book. Enquire about these facilities beforehand, and be advised that NHS practices are unlikely to offer them due to time constraints per patient.
Bring a friend
A popular way to boost your confidence is to bring someone along for support. Many sufferers of dental anxiety fare better when they are not alone and most dentists will not mind if you wish to be accompanied. Some dentists may even encourage it.
The Dental Wand
Some dentists can use this device to deliver local anaesthetic without the need for a traditional needle injection. By delivering the anaesthetic in a slow and controlled way (normally into the gum) over a two-minute period you are unlikely to experience the sharp pricking pain of a traditional injection. This sensation is usually a result of the fluid being injected too quickly. Using the wand device, the gum will numb gradually, further reducing any discomfort.
Using dental sedation, such as oral sedatives or intravenous (IV) sedation, does not necessarily mean that you will be rendered unconscious. Many forms will leave you awake, but in a state of heightened tranquillity. Your powers of reasoning and sense of coordination may also be diminished. If a dentist offers this, they will have been specially trained to administer it. About a quarter of British private dentists offer sedation.
IV sedation is the main method of overcoming anxiety. It is safe, reliable and because it has an amnesic effect it is often used for procedures that are invasive in nature - for example, a wisdom teeth removal or implant surgery.
A general anaesthetic is generally seen as a last resort and would only be used if you were genuinely unable to undergo treatment via other methods. You will be completely unconscious for the entirety of the procedure and will need someone to keep an eye on you for up to 24 hours after the treatment.
You should note that when you undergo treatment with the help of sedation your underlying anxieties are likely to remain, especially if you do not remember much of the experience. It is possible for you to overcome your anxiety through the various other methods described here. To ensure you maintain regular dentist visits over the course of your life, it is highly recommended you address and try to overcome your dental anxiety or phobia as much as possible.
What else can I do?
Besides the specific methods mentioned above, you should consider this general advice:
- Consider taking early morning appointments so you don't spend all day worrying about your dentist visit.
- Have regular check-ups to ensure you dental health remains stable and you avoid having to have large-scale treatment in one go. Regularly seeing a dentist will also diminish your feeling of unease, as you become more used to being in the dentist chair.
- If you have a dental problem, seek treatment sooner than later. If you wait and the problem worsens, treatment becomes more complex and you could spend more time in the dentist chair.
This article was provided by Toothpick, the leading provider of online dentist appointments in the UK.
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Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.