Many, if not most, people feel some reluctance about going to the dentist. Most people might even say that they feel a certain level of stress or anxiety about dental checkups. That’s common and to be expected. But for some people, this tension runs much deeper than it does for others. While it’s not really possible to completely differentiate between the usual dental qualms and what is called “dental fear,” we want to talk about dental anxiety and see if we can establish some categories for thinking and communicating about your experience.
If you’re wondering whether you are feeling normal anxiety or whether you are experiencing dental phobia, here are some leading indicators from Colgate that you are experiencing worse than usual anxiety:
- You feel tense or have trouble sleeping the night before a dental exam.
- You get increasingly nervous while you’re in the waiting room.
- You feel like crying when you think of going to the dentist.
- The sight of dental instruments — or of white-coated personnel in the dentist’s office — increases your anxiety.
- The thought of a dental visit makes you feel physically ill.
- You panic or have trouble breathing when objects are placed in your mouth during a dental appointment.
Some of the most common stress factors that contribute to this fear include:
- Pain-related factors. The fear of pain itself could be coupled with several related fears as well, such as fear of needles, nervousness about side effects of the anesthetic, or concerns about the anesthetic not working properly.
- Feeling out of control or helpless.
- Bad past experiences. Perhaps the rude or intimidating dentist that you went to as a child. Or maybe a particularly painful procedure that you endured now sparks fear about all future dental visits.
OK. Those are some really common and really normal dental fear factors. If you or someone in your family experience any of these or maybe even several of these anxieties in a debilitating way, you’re not alone, and there is hope. Let’s talk about some strategies that might help you and/or your kids.
- The number one best thing you can do is be really honest with your dentist about your fears. A good dentist is going to be understanding and respectful of your concerns and will work with you to mitigate them.
- Ask questions. Take the edge off of some of the uncertainties you may have about what is going to be done throughout the appointment. Your dentist can walk you through what to expect ahead of time and then touch base with you about it along the way.
- Practice mindfulness techniques. Focusing on your breathing and maintaining awareness throughout your body can help you stay grounded and calm while you are in the dental chair. This works for kids too! Even if your kids are pretty young, you can start teaching them how to practice awareness and focus. It’s surprising how adaptable and resilient kids can be with a little coaching.
- Take breaks. When you start to feel overwhelmed, let your dentist know (you can arrange a hand signal ahead of time) that you need a break. Take the time you need. Sit up. Drink some water. Get re-oriented. Resume when you’re ready. Consider options like IV sedation. IV sedation provides a deep relaxation that allows you to be mostly unaware of the ins and out of the dental procedure.
- Distract and reward yourself. Feel free to bring your headphones and listen to music or an audiobook while you’re in the chair. Give yourself permission to pick up that treat you’ve been craving on the way home or back to work: you know, the milkshake or Chinese take-out or the small impulse purchase from Target that you’ve been resisting.
Bottom line, here’s what we hope you’ll take away from this post: The struggle is real. You’re not alone. We want to help you, and we are equipped to do so.