If you have been avoiding going to the dentist because of dental anxiety or fear, know that you are not alone. In fact, nine to 15 percent of Americans avoid the dentist because they are simply too afraid to go. If you fall into this category, know there are ways to overcome this phobia and get the dental care you need.
What causes dental anxiety?
Dental anxiety can be caused by a number of things. Here are just a few:
- Fear of pain
- Negative past experiences
- Feeling a loss of control
- Embarrassment at the current state of oral health
- Discomfort with someone in personal space
Focusing in on these fears may cause the patient to tense up, lose sleep the night before, panic, have difficulty breathing or even feel physically ill.
How to calm nerves before, during, and after the dentist?
Anxiety can be all-consuming. Help ease the mind away from fear by thinking of something else. Prepare before the visit and have rewards ready for a job well done.
The dentist can help
Tell your dentist that you are nervous, anxious or afraid. Steps can be taken to make you feel more comfortable during the visit. Together develop a plan for addressing and confronting your fears. Ask questions about the procedures and for their suggestions on coping with dental anxiety. Sometimes, simply sharing your anxiety with others and knowing they are listening is enough to ease fears. If your dentist doesn’t take your concerns seriously, then it’s time for a new dentist.
Distract the mind
Listen to calming music on the way to the exam. Bring headphones and listen to an audiobook in the waiting room and during the procedure. Take a stress ball or fidget toy to play with. Engaging the hands in repetitive movements helps tune out the sounds, lights and sensations that cause the anxiety. The predictable, rhythmic movements of a fidget toy are soothing. Visualize a favorite place. Imagine being at the beach, a café or floating in a pool. Bring up images of a location that relaxes the senses.
Count breaths to relieve tension. Breathe in deep and exhale slowly. Repeat this technique staying focused only on breathing. Scan the body to relax every muscle. With eyes closed, focus on individual parts of the body. Start at the toes and tell them to relax. Work upwards through the legs, hips, stomach, chest and all the way up to the top of the head releasing all of the tension into the air. Do this before and during the appointment.
See a counselor
Dental anxiety or dental phobia can be extreme, but it can also be treated. Occasionally it requires the help of a mental health professional. Without addressing this fear, it is likely to get worse over time.
Following a dental appointment, make plans to enjoy the rest of the day. Pick something that will bring joy and relaxation. Perhaps a favorite movie or a night out with friends to show off a sparkling smile.
If dental anxiety is a reality in your life, then making it through a dental appointment is something to celebrate! Make sure to mark these moments. Reward yourself for a job well done.
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