If you’re afraid of the dentist, you may be relieved to know that you’re not alone. Up to 75% of American adults have admitted to some degree of fear of the dentist, from mild to nearly crippling.
Between 5-10 percent of US adults have full-on dental phobia and avoid dental care or treatment until it becomes an emergency. This is called the “cycle of avoidance.” Avoiding the dentist leads to complications that require more serious treatment, which is painful and reinforces their fear.
If you’re afraid of the dentist, you don’t have to suffer through it, however. There are ways to deal with your fear that can lessen or eliminate it, providing you some relief.
Don’t avoid the dentist out of fear. Avoiding the dentist means that small problems that could have been handled easily and potentially painlessly are left untreated, which inevitably leads to big problems, more pain, and more time at the dentist.
Talk to Your Dentist
The first step you should take is actually working with your dentist. You don’t have to feel bad about being afraid. Dentists are trained to manage dental anxiety and can work with you to lessen your pain and worry.
One of the techniques dentists use in order to help patients with their anxiety is talking with them about what they can expect, either before their procedure or at each stage along the way. Your dentist can also make sure you’re aware and able to ask questions during most steps of the procedures you’ll be having, to lessen your fears based on the unknown.
Some dentists will even work with you through something called “systematic desensitization.” This is a form of exposure therapy. Some people have the misconception that exposure therapy is about putting yourself through trauma just to get through it, but it’s actually gentler than that, allowing you to approach your fears with understanding and then practice what you learned until your fear diminishes or even disappears.
There are behavioral treatments you might find beneficial to cope with your fear of the dentist. You can even apply them to other areas of your life in which you might experience anxiety.
Controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two techniques that help you put yourself in control.
You might be shocked to know that there are online support groups. Many of them are full of useful information and success stories others have shared about overcoming their fear of the dentist. You can find lots of helpful advice and first-person stories about different types of techniques to help you narrow down what might work best for you.
Most dentists offer nitrous oxide for those who are having a difficult time. Laughing gas has been used for decades with great success, and can even be combined with behavioral techniques for greater effectiveness. Nitrous is a mild sedative that makes you feel relaxed.
If you feel that nitrous won’t be enough to help you, you may want to find a dentist that offers more serious forms of sedation. A quick internet search should help you find a professional that offers these services.
More serious forms of sedation include oral sedatives that will leave you conscious and therefore able to communicate with staff, but much calmer. For patients with a crippling fear of the dentist, however, you may want to consider IV sedation.
It’s important to have a good working relationship with your dentist if you suffer from dental anxiety. That relationship can help alleviate a lot of your concerns. Being on the same page as your dentist is an important step in managing your oral health to avoid bigger problems down the road.