If God gave people an option to either sit on a dentist’s chair or face instant death, I hardly think I would be an exception in choosing death. If you understand the feeling, you are one of the 15% of Americans who suffer from dental anxiety or dental phobia. Just like most other phobias, dental anxiety is based on irrational fears and therefore, there are ways to overcome it!
Some tortures are physical
And some are mental,
But the one that is both
~ Ogden Nash
For many people, visiting a dentist is a dreadful prospect. The phobia itself is debilitating and is the leading cause of skipped dental checkups. Well, if you’re waiting for one good reason why you should proactively banish this fear, then here’s a good one. Poor dental health can lead to heart disease!
Of course, heart disease is a worst-case scenario. However, it is in the interest of your physical well-being to practice good oral hygiene, which includes regular visits to the dentist. It is quite possible that the scary looking procedures may not even be necessary for your particular condition. In addition, inculcating a habit of visiting the dentist regularly helps build a relationship with the dentist, which will help allay your fears. Often, becoming used to the pain increases your ability to tolerate pain. With subsequent visits to the dentist, you will realize that what seemed at first to be an unbearable procedure is no longer a big deal.
Causes of Dental Anxiety
If you don’t suffer from dental phobia but want to help someone who does, you might want to check out the causes for this fear.
- Prior Experience: If someone has had a painful dental visit or has seen someone else have a painful experience while accompanying them, chances are they will develop a phobia during subsequent visits. Sometimes, the procedure itself may not have been painful but humiliation by the dentist or insensitivity to the patient’s anxiety aggravates the phobia.
- Anxiety Disorder or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Some individuals suffer from general anxiety disorders and PTSD and dental phobia is only one of their many fears.
- Abusive History: Victims of sexual and emotional abuse often associate similar fears when under the care of a person of authority. A dentist may appear abusive to such a victim even though there has been no real incident. Add to that an unusually stern dentist, dental phobia is the only escape for these patients.
Tips to Overcome Dental Phobia
Now that you are aware of some of the causes of dental anxiety, let us take a look at some ways to overcome fear of the dentist.
- Choose Your Dentist: Instead of just heading off to the nearest dental clinic, scout around for a dentist who is likely to accept your anxiety. Speak to your friends and family and check if they know a “compassionate” dentist. Chances are, if you find someone who regularly visits a dentist, they most likely do that because they trust the dentist. Because dental phobia is so common, there are dentists who specialize in treating patients with anxiety. Check if you can find such a specialist close to your area. Don’t let your first appointment be the one that requires you to be sitting in the dentist’s chair with your mouth wide open. Make a brief appointment first, to get to know the dentist and use the opportunity to let him/her know of your dental phobia. Let him/her know of that horrible experience you had with the other dentist. During the actual appointment, ask the doctor to slow down the pace of treatment instead of hurrying through the process to “get over with it quickly”. Sometimes, letting the patient know what’s coming and how “little” it will hurt helps to calm them down. If the dentist specializes in handling anxiety related cases, he will know how to handle the case.
- Use of Sedation: In cases where you’re unable to sit still without fearing the worst, the dentist may find it difficult to perform procedures such as tooth extraction. In such cases, the dentist may prescribe inhalation, oral or intravenous (IV) sedation before the procedure, for dental anxiety treatment. Sedation relieves anxiety and you’ll be conscious during the procedure. However, you may be advised not to drive and you may be asked to bring along someone for support/company for up to a few hours after the sedation is administered.
- General Anesthesia: In rare cases such as young children or people with special needs, general anesthesia may be used for difficult dental procedures. This must be done under extreme caution and as a last resort if no other non-invasive alternative is available.
- Psychological Support: In case of any treatment, a non-invasive approach is undoubtedly the safest bet. It is sort of an overlap with a few things we already discussed above where the dentist attempts what is also called behavior management techniques ranging from “taking it slowly” to “telling you what to expect”. Alternately, the dentist may refer you to a mental health professional for counseling. Incidentally, behavior management techniques work well with most people and so you must give it a try.
- Hypnosis: Another form of non-invasive therapy to treat dental phobia, hypnosis involves sending the patient into a “trance state” where the hypnotherapist (your dentist may also be one) gives you a set of instructions to follow. Audio hypnosis uses CDs that enable patients to listen to the hypnotherapy instructions and practice relaxation at home. In the “hypnotic state”, the hypnotherapist can induce numbness in the area where the procedure is to be performed. Alternatively, continued hypnotherapy also helps to alleviate dental phobia such that you can get rid of your fears even before you visit the dentist. However, this form of treatment is not recommended for everyone especially those with a history of trauma. Your dentist or hypnotherapist can be the best judge whether you qualify for this treatment. But for those patients who did undergo hypnosis, the results have been promising.
- Calm Yourself Down: This is not as difficult as you think. If the sound of dental drills and other equipment is a major cause of your anxiety, bring along a portable music player to deafen yourself to the scary sounds.
Some Good News
Now that we have seen some ways to overcome your fear of the dentist, here are some technological advances in dentistry that might reduce your fears considerably even before you try anxiety treatments. The dental drills have become quieter and some models of the drills permit the patient to switch it off when they wish. This helps people who fear loss of control during such procedures. There are also numbing gels and anesthetic sprays that promise a near painless experience. The “magic wand” has replaced needles (not widely available yet) and is helpful for those with needle phobia. If you’re afraid of dental implant pain, you might want to try keyhole surgery for dental implants (also not widely available yet) that is less invasive and recovery is considerably faster. More recently, it has been reported that a new painless cavity drill is likely to be available in two years. It consists of a “plasma brush” that could treat rotten teeth by hollowing it out in seconds with just a cooling sensation. The filling will also last much longer with this brush.
Well, as you can see, there’s much hope for those with dental anxiety not just with therapy to relieve phobia but also with modern technological advances in dentistry. We recommend that you do not wait for the modern painless dental tools to hit the market. Make an effort towards overcoming dental anxiety and take your first step now! It is simply not worth it to suffer from obnoxious mouth problems like halitosis and crooked teeth that can be treated easily. You’re more likely to become a social recluse if you continue to delay treatment. And don’t forget about the heart disease risk factors lurking in some corner of your mouth. Hope you can now look forward to that dentist appointment you have been endlessly postponing!