Managing Your Anxiety About Going to the Dentist
An estimated 40 million Americans avoid the dentist because of fear and anxiety.
Why are people fearful of dental visits?
People are anxious about going to the dentist for different reasons, including worrying about the effectiveness of localized anesthetic and feeling that the dentist is rushed or is neglecting their concerns. Other factors include anticipation of pain, negative past experiences and even the sterile smell of the dental office. Interrupting the normal day's routine to visit the dentist also is a factor in general anxiety. If not addressed, dental anxiety can lead to unnecessary oral health problems, which in turn can lead to much more time spent in the dental chair for treatment.
Communication helps calm anxiety
Studies prove that the most important factor in overcoming dental anxiety is good dentist-patient communication.
"It is natural for people to feel some level of anxiety when visiting a physician or dentist," says Jerome L. Vitenson, DDS, a senior dental consultant with Delta Dental. "However, if personal anxiety is preventing access to needed care, the patient should have a frank discussion with the dentist before any treatment has been started." Dr. Vitenson adds, "Because they are health care professionals, dentists have been trained to treat patients who have anxiety. There are many safe and comfortable techniques available for making dental care more acceptable for anxious patients, including the use of medication."
Establishing trust and keeping patients informed and in control throughout a visit to the dentist helps calm dental anxiety. One option is for patients to use hand signals to communicate with the dentist throughout a procedure. When a patient feels uncomfortable, he or she can signal the dentist and the dentist stops the procedure. This method of communication empowers patients and makes visiting the dentist less stressful for them.
Reducing your anxiety levels
If you are nervous about an upcoming dental visit, here are some additional ways to curb your anxiety:
- Share your fears. If you're tense or anxious, tell your dentist and the dental staff. Expressing your concerns will let your dentist adapt the treatment to your needs.
- Focus on breathing regularly and slowly during dental procedures. When you are nervous you tend to hold your breath, which decreases oxygen levels and further increases feelings of panic.
- If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring a portable audio player and headset so you can listen to music.
- Avoid caffeine before a dental appointment.
- Eat high-protein foods which – unlike sugary foods – produce a calming effect.
- Try to choose a time for your dental visit when you're less likely to be rushed or under pressure. For some people, that means a Saturday or an early-morning appointment.
- If you are looking for a dentist, ask friends and relatives for recommendations. A good review about a dentist from someone you trust can significantly reduce anxiety.
Why am I anxious in the dental office? Academy of General Dentistry.
Dental anxiety. American Dental Association.