It’s not that we actually fear dentists, rather that we fear their dental equipment and the pain of dental treatment. A pending visit to the dentist can also trigger feelings of guilt and shame because our oral hygiene has been somewhat lacking. The first step to overcoming our fear of the dentist is to understand what our dental fears are.
How Can I Get Over My Fear of the Dentist?
Identifying Our Fears
Dental anxiety is no laughing matter. It’s thought that 80 percent of Americans experience a degree of dental anxiety, resulting in between 9 percent to 15 percent of Americans avoiding the dentist altogether. That translates to around 40 million people who have little to smile about. Underpinning all of our fears is the fear that a dentist’s instrument will touch a nerve– or at least the wrong nerve, by accident. It is normal to fear things going wrong during a dental appointment.
The number one fear of dentist visits is pain. Fear of pain could be based on painful past experiences which are then projected onto pending dental procedures. One way in which patients experience pain is when the area being worked on isn’t sufficiently numb. It could be that you need more numbing injections, or the injections need more time to work before dental work begins.
Loss of control
Central to a perceived loss of control is the realization that we are at the mercy of the dentist, as we see it. There is nothing we can do to help sort out our dental care problems. We have that rare feeling of powerlessness. At the root of this fear is the fear of the unknown, or the fear of a re-occurrence of a bad experience. Tell the dentist how you feel about not being in control and why.
If you have ever had to have a root canal, which often takes more than one appointment, hearing that you need to return for another visit immediately surfaces resentment and dread. If you haven’t had root treatment you may have heard the horror stories from those that have. Discussing trust issues based on bad past experiences is very important. The dentist might be able to explain what went wrong during the previous dental visit and they will talk you through what is going to happen to make you feel more comfortable.
Noises that can hurt your ears, the smell from drilling, terrible taste, and the sight of a broad range of metallic instruments can be like a full-frontal attack on our senses. Even just a visit to the dental office for routine teeth and gum cleaning can be unnerving. Again, for people with dental phobia, it is the fear of things going wrong.
Even when you are sitting in the waiting room, dental anxiety can have an effect on patients. The thought of not being able to swallow properly for an extended period of time, combined with the idea of a mouthful of fingers and instruments can cause feelings of claustrophobia and related anxieties.
If we have a better relationship with the tooth fairy than a toothbrush, we fear being lectured about our poor dental hygiene. This stems from a fear of authority. From childhood, we regard the dentist as an authoritative figure instead of as a healthcare practitioner who will care for us.
Overcoming our fears
There are two main things we can do to overcome our fear of the dentist. The first is to articulate to ourselves what we are afraid of and why. This requires a rational and logical process. Once we recognize our fear or fears, the next thing to do is verbalize them with the dental hygienist. This involves being open and honest, as well as seeing the dentist as a human and not as the enemy. Chances are they will understand and be able to alleviate our fears. Moreover, having had an upfront chat with our dentist will build trust. Studies have shown that we relax more when we trust someone.
Ask a family member or friend to accompany you. They can sit in on the appointment with you or wait in the reception area, once the injections kick in.
Being early will give you an opportunity to feel grounded and use the bathroom if you need to. This will help you to relax. It is also an opportunity to ask the reception staff any questions you think they can answer for you. Basic communication can also be distressing.
If you think the anxiety, discomfort, breathing problems, and claustrophobia are going to be too much for you, agree on a warning sign you can give the dentist. This will help if you need them to stop what they are doing. To help you relax, opt for gas instead of injections and ask for the dentist to put on some music. Once the work is started, try out the stop sign to make sure the dentist remembers it. Now, open wide!
Additional Information: Dental Anxiety: 3 Ways to Stop Fearing the Dentist – American Dental Association (ADA)
All Smiles Family Dentistry in Omaha, NE
At All Smiles Family Dentistry, we are proud to provide high-quality care to all our patients both young and old thanks to our compassionate and experienced dental team. We offer a clean and comfortable clinic to help you feel relaxed during your visit. Contact All Smiles Family Dentist or schedule an appointment online.