Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you experience the astringent smell of antiseptics, hear the shrill whine of a drill coming closer and closer, feel fingers covered in latex invading your mouth. Either you’re getting very uncomfortable right now, or you’re wondering when you need to schedule your next dental cleaning.
For many people, just the thought of going to the dentist can give them extreme amounts of stress and fear. If you’re one of them, you’re not alone: it’s estimated that up to 24 percent of people worldwide suffer from a fear of the dentist. Like all fears and phobias, though, dental fear can be overcome by taking steps known to help people cope with the dread.
Before going to your next appointment, make a list of coping mechanisms, then check them off as you perform each task. By the time you reach the bottom of the list, you may not be happy, but you’ll be able to sit through your appointment without being too scared to function.
GET TO KNOW YOUR DENTIST
Familiar things are less frightening than unknown ones. Make your first appointment one where you just plan to get to know your dentist and her office. Take a look around the lobby, meet the support staff and have a nice conversation with the dentist about your fears. She’ll understand, and may have some great suggestions to add to your list.
REGAIN CONTROL OF YOUR PROCEDURE
For many people, the loss of communication and control during a dental session is the scariest part of the visit. How are you supposed to tell your dentist that something is wrong if your mouth is full of instruments? Did you know that there is a dental sign language, made especially so patients can communicate with their dentists and technicians? By learning the signs and making sure your dentist is familiar with them, you can quiet that part of your dental fear.
TAP YOUR SUPPORT GROUP
Everything seems easier to deal with if you’ve got other people to back you up. Before going to your dental appointment, call your best friend or a non-judgmental family member to talk about your fears. They may not have any solutions to the problem, but just knowing they’re behind you can help to ease your fears. You might even want to bring your friend along on your visit, for extra support.
USE RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Fear causes stress, which makes you feel more afraid. It’s a vicious circle that can only stop when you step in with an alternate action. Relaxation techniques can stop that fear spiral and make you more relaxed before your dental appointment. Some common techniques to try include:
- Breathing exercises
- Muscle relaxation techniques
- Guided imagery
BRING ALONG DISTRACTIONS
Music and audiobooks have amazing powers to distract your mind. Instead of listening to the whine of the drill and scrape of the instruments, why not focus on your favorite band or the latest book you’ve been dying to read? Bring along a great pair of noise-canceling headphones, crank the volume up and pull your attention away from what your dentist is doing.
DEALING WITH NEEDLES
If your fear is based on the numbing shots before the work begins, ask your dentist to use numbing gel or topical anesthesia first. She’ll apply this gel to your gums with a cotton swab and let it soak in. Your gums will go completely numb, and you will literally not know when the needles are inserted if you close your eyes.
GET SOME HELP WITH BREATHING
A surprising number of people are afraid of the dentist because they’re afraid they won’t be able to breathe. It makes sense when you consider all the instruments that may be in your mouth during your appointment. One way to get around this fear is to bring along a nasal strip and apply it right before the dentist begins to work. The increased air coming into your nose can help calm that fear.
Don’t let fear of the dentist keep you from taking care of your oral health. By working out your fears ahead of time, you can conquer dental phobia and keep your teeth healthy and attractive.