For some people, a trip to the dentist can prompt a lot of uncomfortable feelings that may keep them from getting regular dental care.
Just the thought of scheduling an appointment can bring up feelings of fear, nervousness, embarrassment or anxiety.
First of all, know that you are not alone. According to Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, nearly 40 million Americans avoid dental visits because of fear and anxiety. The root of those feelings could lie in unpleasant childhood experiences, a fear of pain or injections, a dislike of feeling helpless or not in control, embarrassment about their teeth or even discomfort with the loss of personal space boundaries.
Biology also comes into play with dental visit fears. Tiril Willumsen, a Norwegian dentist and professor at the University of Oslo, says there are biological reasons for not wanting someone poking around in your mouth. She said it is a natural human survival response to protect our airways.
Some people’s discomfort over dental visits may keep them from getting regular check-ups and cleanings where problems can be caught early. Those who neglect dental visits may eventually find themselves with big problems that will be costly and require more dental visits to correct.
Fortunately, advancements in dental care make modern procedures less painful or even pain-free and dentists are now trained to help those who are uncomfortable visiting a dentist.
Here are ways to help you cope that will make your dental appointments much more successful.
- Find the right dentist. Get recommendations from family and friends. Look for a dentist who specializes in treating fearful patients. Check the dentist’s license HERE on the Dental Board of California’s license search website to ensure the dentist is in good standing.
- Talk with the dentist and dental office staff before making an appointment. Share your concerns. Explain what makes you uncomfortable. Ask how they could accommodate you.
- Bring along a friend or relative that you trust who doesn’t share your fears and will make sure you get to your appointment.
- Ask the dentist and staff to explain everything to you as they go.
- Agree on a sign, such as raising your hand, to use if you feel uncomfortable.
- If being reclined in the dental chair makes you uncomfortable, ask to have the chair more upright.
- Listen to your favorite music. Bring earphones and drift away to your favorite tunes.
- Use deep, slow breathing for a calming effect.
- Don’t drink caffeine or eat sweets beforehand as they are a temporary stimulant that will leave you feeling low. Proteins such as chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, peanut butter and nuts help stimulate chemicals in the brain that will leave you with a sense of well-being.
If your fear of dentists is serious enough for you to neglect your oral hygiene and it prevents you from regular dentist visits, you may want to seek the help of a licensed psychologist to talk about it. You can check their license HERE on the Board of Psychology’s license search website.
Don’t let fear or worry prevent you from having the beautiful and healthy smile you deserve.