dental phobia, nervous dental patient

Dental Anxiety: 3 Ways to Stop Fearing the Dentist

If you ever get nervous just thinking about going to the dentist, you’re not alone. Perhaps you’re scared the visit might hurt or you haven’t been in a while and you’re not sure what the dentist will find.

Whatever your reason, the right dental team will make sure your dental and your emotional health are taken care of.

The more you delay – or just don’t go – to the dentist, the higher your risk of developing dental problems that will make gearing up for future dental visits more difficult.

In fact, seeing your dentist regularly can actually make the entire process – from making an appointment to sailing through it – much easier on many levels.

Use these strategies at your next appointment to help ease your anxiety and strengthen your smile.

1. Speak up

Anyone with anxiety knows sharing your feelings makes a world of difference. If you’re tense or anxious, do yourself a favor and get your concerns off your chest. Your dentist and dental team are better able to treat you if they know your needs.

  • Tell your dentist about your anxiety. When you book your appointment, tell the receptionist you’re nervous about dental visits. And try to book your appointment at a time of day that is the least stressful for you. Often, that’s at the beginning of the day.
  • Remind the dentist and dental staff about your anxiety when you arrive. Share any bad experiences you may have had in the past and ask for suggestions on coping strategies.
  • Keep in mind that there are techniques (including prescription medications and laughing gas) that your dentist can implement to make you more comfortable. Knowing that you may need these techniques means that your team is able to offer these comfort items or options to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes knowing what is going to happen alleviates any fears of the unknown.
  • Agree on a signal. Let your dentist know by raising your hand if you need to take a break during an exam.
  • If you experience pain even with a local anesthetic, tell your dentist. Some patients get embarrassed about their pain tolerance or don’t want to interrupt a dentist during a procedure. Talk with your dentist about pain before it starts so your dentist knows how to communicate with you and make it more comfortable.

2. Distract yourself

Taking your mind off the exam may seem impossible when you’re nervous, but there are some things that that can help distract your thoughts.

  • Wear headphones. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring headphones so you can listen to your favorite music or audiobook. Some dental offices even have televisions or show DVDs.
  • Occupy your hands by squeezing a stress ball or playing with a small handheld object, like a fidget spinner.
  • Imagine your happy place and visualize yourself at a relaxing beach or garden.
  • Try NOT to move your legs or fidget your body as a method to relax. Moving one body part causes the rest of the body (and consequently your head) to move thereby making your treatment more difficult and your appointment time more lengthy.

3. Use mindfulness techniques

Relaxation starts in the mind. Try deep breathing exercises to help relax tension in your muscles.

  • Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this five times while you’re waiting for your appointment, or during breaks while you’re sitting in the dental chair.
  • Do a body scan. Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes. For example, you can focus on releasing tension starting in your forehead, then your cheeks, your neck and down the rest of your body.

Finally, try to remember that you’re here to avoid tooth pain. Not going will lead to infections and extractions or root canals. And going will lead to healthier teeth and easy cleaning appointments. Bite the bullet. With time, and the right team, everybody becomes comfortable in the dental chair.