Though hardly anyone gets excited about visiting the dentist’s office, there are some who become paralyzed at the thought. According to data collected by the University of Washington, up to eight percent of Americans completely avoid the dentist out of fear. Nearly twenty percent will only schedule appointments when absolutely necessary due to this anxiety. This has the potential to be a serious problem with dire consequences. Ignoring oral issues can lead to intense pain or infection, gum disease, lost teeth or worse. Neglect to this degree can make it even more difficult for a dental professional to treat the source of the problem. Overcoming this phobia is vital for maintaining good oral health.
The Root of the Problem
The first step towards assuaging these fears is recognizing the source. Roughly two thirds of dental-phobes can trace the root of their fear to a traumatizing experience at an early age. The remaining third experience their fear as a side effect of high anxiety, substance abuse problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other afflictions. Yet many patients that undergo serious procedures such as teeth extraction and root canals have claimed that they anticipated greater discomfort than they experienced. The best way for fearful patients to regain their sense of control is through asserting their needs with their dentist.
How to Remain Calm
Patients with dental-phobias can use a few precautions and methods for staying calm and comfortable during an appointment.
– Communication is the foundation for good interactions. Talking to the dentist and their staff can help them directly address anxiety issues by making the environment more comfortable. Ask for a thorough explanation about the procedure; understanding exactly what is happening re-establishes a sense of control and sets one at ease.
– Practice using techniques such as controlled breathing and muscle relaxation. Deep, controlled breaths help to slow the heartbeat and calm the nerves.
– Find a distraction. Usually there is a television show or music playing in dental offices, but bringing music from home to listen to on headphones is also appropriate. Bringing a close friend or family member along can be comforting as well.
– Though not all procedures require it, ask the dental professional about available sedatives. Local anesthetics, intravenous sedation, nitrous oxide, and oral sedatives are all potential options.
– It’s encouraged that seriously traumatized individuals consider seeing a psychologist or therapist. Ronald Kleinknecht, a PhD at the Western Washington University, recommends a behavior management technique called “direct therapeutic exposure,” which involves introducing aspects of the patient’s fear, like a dental drill or teeth cleaning utensils, gradually and in a highly controlled setting.
Overcoming fear can be a simple task or a painstaking process, but it’s a well-known fact that the best way to do so is by confronting it directly. Whether this can be done head-on or gradually over time depends on the individual. Instead of focusing on what could possibly go wrong, just remember that the dentist is a medical professional trained to care for you.