26Feb

Overcome Your Fear of the Dentist

by

Fear of the dentist?

If the thought of a dental visit fills you with fear, take heart: You're not alone. Dental anxiety statistics have shown that while extreme dental phobias are uncommon, up to 38 percent of patients do suffer from some form of dental anxiety, and 8 percent describe it as severe. Overall, researchers have found that prior to a planned dental visit, as many as 75 percent of patients feel some degree of nervousness.

The most common reasons for dental anxiety are:

  • Fear of discomfort. If your dental anxiety stems from a fear of pain, don't be shy about letting your dentist know. Rest assured that pain is the last thing he or she wants you to feel. Modern technology helps to ensure that you won't.
  • Fear of needles. Many people want a local anesthetic but dread the standard method of delivery. Others worry that the numbing effect will kick in too late or that the dose given will not have the desired effect. If the painkiller has failed to hit the proper spot or to make you sufficiently numb, it's not a problem. Just be sure to let your dentist know before he begins the actual treatment.
  • Fear of embarrassment. It is normal to be ashamed of your dental condition, particularly if several years have passed since your previous visit. You can be certain of one thing here: Dental anxiety has caused the cancellation of many an office visit, and most dentists have likely seen and treated patients whose mouths are in worse shape than yours is. When a person suffers from a fear of dentists, bad teeth are often the unfortunate byproduct.
  • Fear of being out of control. This is surprisingly common. However, you are more in charge here than you realize. The dentist is not holding you prisoner. Ask him to explain what he is doing as he goes along. That will alleviate the powerless feeling that comes with not knowing. It can also help if you and your dentist agree on a signal by which you can communicate when you need a break or want the dentist to stop what he's doing.
  • Fear of invasion of your personal space. In its most exaggerated form, this involves a dislike of being touched. There are treatments for it, but you can often handle it yourself with the realization that the person doing the invading is trying to help you, not harm you.
If you suffer from dental anxiety, don't try to keep it a secret. Let your dentist know. This will give both of you the chance to work together to determine the best ways of reducing your fears and increasing your comfort. Any dentist who makes light of your distress or refuses to take it seriously is not the dentist for you. 

How to Deal with Dental Anxiety

If you're scared of the dentist but in need of treatment, it's important to remember that today's modern age puts numerous dental anxiety treatment options at your disposal. These include:
  • Topical anesthetics. Your dentist will normally apply these with a cotton swab to numb the area before administering a local analgesic.
  • New and improved dental anxiety medications. Sometimes known as happy pills, most belong to the family of benzodiazepines, and their benefits range from simple anxiety control to strong sedative effects.
  • Laser drills. In addition to causing less pain, this modern decay-removal method does the job minus the heavy-duty vibrations you may have experienced from dentists who use the old-fashioned models.
  • Transcutaneous nerve stimulation. Those who fear injection by needle will appreciate this new anesthetic alternative. Familiarly known as TENS, it numbs the treatment area courtesy of electrical impulses delivered through pads that adhere to the skin. The patient holds the unit and has complete control of the stimulation level.
  • Cranial electrotherapy stimulation. Like the TENS technique, this form sends electrical currents directly into the brain to deliver a calming effect. Here, too, the patient has complete control over the current's intensity.
  • Intravenous sedation. Normally reserved for patients with extreme dental anxiety or for those undergoing an extensive procedure, it involves the injection of a sedative into a vein in the hand or the arm. Despite the deeply calming effect, the patient remains awake.
  • General anesthesia. Due to its tendency to lower blood pressure and cause heartbeat irregularities, patients opting for general anesthesia will most likely receive it in a hospital where close monitoring will be available.

Mind and Body Techniques for Controlling Dental Anxiety

Those who prefer to avoid pharmaceutical solutions often benefit from strategies of distraction such as listening to music through personal headphones. Some dentists have gone one step further, offering the option of virtual reality goggles.  Other dental patients have found relief with such relaxation techniques as:
  • Guided imagery. Imagine yourself sitting on a tropical beach or by a soothing waterfall instead of in a dentist's chair.
  • Deep breathing. By taking slow, deep breaths, you can increase the blood levels of oxygen and other beneficial chemicals that offer stress relief.
  • Progressive relaxation. A surprising sense of calm can result from consciously relaxing your muscles one by one, starting with the toes and working up to the head.
  • Biofeedback. Training in this technique is available from specialists ranging from physical therapists and internists up to psychologists and psychiatrists.
  • Hypnosis. While some therapists specialize in this modality, many people have learned to hypnotize themselves.
  • Acupuncture. The placement of thin needles in certain body locations can cause the body to reduce pain-killing chemicals. For those who dislike needles, acupressure can be a useful substitute.
Other options for the anxious patient consist of support groups, cognitive behavior therapies and systemic desensitization techniques. If you have a fear of dentists, bad teeth are bound to be the natural but unfortunate outcome. If you're scared of the dentist but in need of treatment, modern dental anxiety treatment options can help. Remember, your dentist is on your side.  If you suffer from dental anxiety, Dr. White can help. He understands your fears and concerns and can help you overcome your nervous hesitation. Don't let surmountable worries rob you of your smile. Call Dr. White today and see how stress-free dental work can be.