Coast Dental Blog
10 Tips for Dealing with Dental Anxiety

Dealing with Dental Anxiety Do you know somebody who hates going to the dentist?   The answer is probably yes. More than 80 percent of American adults have some fear of the dentist, a study by the American Association of Endodontists discovered in 1999.  Nearly 25 percent of Americans are so fearful, they avoid their dental check-ups unless they’re in pain, a Wall Street Journal article reports.

Some people are afraid of the sound of the drill, while others say they’re afraid the procedure will be painful.  Some people say they hate feeling like they’re not in control when they’re leaning back in the chair, and others feel like their personal space is being violated when the dentist or hygienist is working on their teeth.  Some people say they don’t want to go to the dentist because they’re afraid of being lectured about not brushing or flossing their teeth properly.

Unfortunately, the longer you delay visiting the dentist, the bigger and more costly the problems are to fix.  Plaque, a sticky, colorless film of bacteria on your teeth, can cause gum disease and cavities.  If the decay reaches the nerve of the tooth, then you will need a root canal and a crown. If you have advanced gum disease, the bacteria destroys the bone supporting your teeth, causing your teeth to become loose and possibly need to be extracted. Plus, new studies link gum disease with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

Here are some ways to deal with dental anxiety so you can get the care that you need:

  1. Tell your dentist about your anxiety and create a strategy. Some patients feel better if the dentist tells them what is happening at every step of the process.  Other patients prefer to have the dentist talk about something other than the work that is being done. Listening to a calming voice talk about the ballgame that was on last night could help distract you.
  2. Establish a signal for when you need a break.  Let the dentist know if you raise your hand, it means you need him/her to stop for a minute.
  3. Listen to music. Bring an iPod and headphones, close your eyes, and concentrate on your favorite songs instead of the sounds of the dentist’s office.
  4. Bring a friend. It can help to know you have someone you trust sitting in the waiting room and keeping you calm.
  5. Wear your own sunglasses.   Typically, your dentist will supply protective eyewear, but the one-size-fits-all model may not be comfortable for you. 
  6. Have something to hold.   Kids may want to cuddle a teddy bear. Adults may choose to have a worry stone, a stress relief ball or a hand grip to squeeze during treatment.
  7. Picture yourself somewhere else. Visualization techniques such as imagining you’re on the beach watching the waves can help relax you.
  8. Silently repeat a mantra. You know how people always say think good thoughts? It’s true. Telling yourself simple mantras like “I am okay” or “I am safe” can help keep you calm.
  9. Consider medication. Before your appointment, call your dentist about your fears and discuss whether you should take a prescription.  Make sure you follow your dentist’s instructions regarding any medication.
  10. Consider sedation dentistry. In extreme cases, there are some patients whose anxiety has reached the point of becoming a phobia.  In these cases, talk to your dentist about whether anesthesia may be the best option.

The most important thing to remember is there are ways to cope with dental anxiety so you or someone you love can have a beautiful and healthy smile.  The first step is to talk to your dentist.  Make an appointment today.

Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD

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