Studies show that three-quarters of the population is at least somewhat anxious about going to the dentist, and about half the population experiences strong anxiety.
Dr. Kyle Gill, a Monroe dentist, said that dental work anxiety can keep people from getting needed treatment.
“Some people have a hard time getting in,” he said. “They reschedule their appointments a couple times, they are so nervous.”
In fact, as many as one in five people dread the dentist so much they forgo dental treatment altogether.
But there are things your dentist can do for you or your children to make it easier, and there are also a number of things you can do yourself.
If you experience strong anxiety about visiting the dentist, here are some things you can do.
What you can do
1. Schedule a time to just visit the office
“For anyone has a strong fear of the dentist, have a meeting first and talk about what to expect,” said Gill. “Most dentists will be happy to introduce you to the office. And then you know you’re not coming in to get worked on, you’re just looking at the office.”
2. Bring music
Make a playlist on your mP3 player if you have one, or burn yourself a CD of relaxing music or whatever music you really love that can take your mind off your mouth, and bring it with a portable device.
Gill notes that some of his clients bring in podcasts of comedy routines.
3. Bring a friend
Moral support can make all the difference. Bring a loved one to wait with you in the waiting room, and to drive you home when you are done. Put out a call on Facebook for friends who also hate the dentist. Buddy up and accompany each other to appointments.
4. Focus on your breathing
Focusing on the breath as a means of controlling fear and other unhelpful mental spaces is a centuries-old technique. It’s a key tenant of yoga, and childbirth classes train mothers to use their breathing to control pain through delivery.
“Take some deep breaths in the chair, breathing in and out carefully for four seconds,” said Gill. That can bring the mind back from panicky feelings to a place of relative calm.
The dentist chair is not a place to endure discomfort out of a misguided desire to be polite. Your dentist doesn’t want to hurt you any more than you want to be hurt. And the majority of dental anxiety is the result of a bad experience in a dentist chair in the past. Enduring will make it worse. Not all mouths are created equal, and some people are harder to numb than others. If you feel anything at all after you’ve been anesthetized, let your dentist know immediately. He or she will give you all you need to ensure your maximum comfort.
6. Parents-Don’t scare your kids
What if your child is scared of the dentist? You as a parent are in a position to make it worse.
“If you are anxious about the dentist, try not to convey that,” said Gill. “Kids can read us really well.” Be as nonchalant as possible, and withhold stories about your bad experiences in the dentist chairs of 20 years ago.
Once you have done all you can to ease your own anxiety, shop for a dentist who can help you have the best experiences possible. Dentists are quite accustomed to encountering anxiety. The best of them will offer many ways to help you cope.
What your dentist can do
Even if you don’t bring your own music or podcast, many dentists offer things to help you keep your mind off the procedure. Dr. Chan Han of Bella Smiles in Monroe has a screen positioned above his treatment chairs, and offers DVDs for both children and adults. Before he retired, dentist Richard Lowell of Monroe made his vast collection of music available to clients. And Gill soothes children by means of magic tricks and funny stories.
“We tell a story about Hank the Pig, and they focus on the next step of the story instead of the anxiety,” he said.
2. Calming medication
Most dental offices offer nitrous oxide gas. If you know yourself to be anxious, make sure you ask for it when selecting a dentist, and don’t be shy about asking for it while you are in the chair.
3. Light sedation
If you really, really hate going to the dentist, talk to your dentist about sedation. It doesn’t necessarily mean total anesthesia, which can be dangerous and expensive. There are oral sedatives you can take about an hour prior to dental care.
“You’ll be really drowsy and may not even remember any of the scary things we did,” said Gill.
After a couple of positive experiences with the dentist, hopefully you won’t feel the need to undergo sedation for future procedures.
4. Soothing environment
At Monroe Family Dentistry, which is located in a repurposed house, treatment takes place in a room full of plants with big windows onto a lush green yard. Sometimes getting treatment in a non-traditional office setting can help reduce the kind of anxiety associated with typical dental treatment rooms.
5. Sleight of hand
Some skilled doctors can trick patients into better experiences than they might otherwise have had; Dr. Han of Bella Smiles distracts patients from the extraction of a tooth by pressing lightly on the cheek, and sometimes clients don’t even realize the tooth has been removed until he shows it to them.
6. Give control to the patient
The best dentists put as much control as possible into the hands of their patients. Like fear of flying, dental anxiety is often about helplessness and lack of control. Some dentists tell their clients that they can stop the procedure at any point. They also explain each step of the procedure as it occurs, ask for permission to continue, check in regularly to make sure the patient is doing okay, and make time for breaks as needed.
Above all, never feel embarrassed about anxiety. The majority of Americans are anxious; you’re not alone or even in the minority. And many, many people have had bad experiences and quite naturally are not eager to repeat them.
Make sure that you choose a dentist that will be patient and compassionate about your concern, and who will offer you all the comfort measures you need.
Then, after some positive experiences, chances are your fear of dental work will go away over time.