Are you dentalphobic? You are in good company if so - in Western society it is thought that around 60% of people have anxiety about going to the dentist, and as much as 10% of people have full-blown dentalphobia and avoid going to the dentist no matter what! Scared patients cower at the sound of the drill and tremble at the sight of the syringe. They sweat, their hands shake, and if they don’t give in to fear and cancel the appointment, they often can’t sleep the night before. When you speak to someone who is dentalphobic, their fears are multiple and usually irrational: cold and sadistic dentists, agonising pain, being unable to breathe, horrible sounds or smells and giant needles…. Be it mild or severe, dental-related anxiety can eventually lead to serious health problems. If you’re trying to overcome your fear, here are five tips to make your trip to the dentist as comfortable as possible - before, during and after your visit.
Recognise your fear and understand it
Know that your fear of the dentist is very common and completely normal. You may be reluctant to admit you are scared but there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Admitting you are fearful is the first step to overcoming the fear. The next step is figure out exactly what you are frightened of, and the best way of doing that is to write out a list of what those fears are. Listing your anxieties will help you recognise them while helping your dentist to talk you through your fears and make you feel better. Remember, they will have heard everything you might think of many times before and will always be able to help put your mind at rest.
Get the right dentist
Whatever you do, don’t pick a dentist at random and hope for the best, as you’ll either end up cancelling the appointment, or if you attend without trying to allay your fears beforehand, you’ll be back at square one before you know it. Find an understanding dentist; look for one that specialises in treating anxious patients if you can. Speak to friends and family for word-of-mouth recommendations or go online and look up local clinics. Most of them will have online reviews which can help you make the best decision. When you have got a list of potential clinics in mind, phone them all, tell them how you are feeling and speak to the actual dentist if possible. Closely observe how they speak to you and ask yourself how they made you feel. Were they understanding or reassuring or off-hand and dismissive? If they don’t seem empathetic when they talk to you then it is a fair bet they’ll be the same during treatment too. Don’t be afraid to ask to visit the surgery to have a look around and meet everyone; they should understand and want to help you feel more relaxed.
Distractions in the waiting room
For the anxious patient, the mere thought of sitting in a clinic reception, waiting for their turn to go in can reduce them to jelly! The best way to deal with this is to use distractions to divert your attention. Don’t be scared to ask your dentist if a friend or family member can come to the appointment with you. Knowing that someone you know well is with you can help to relax you and chatting together can take your mind off the treatment to come. If you are on your own, then listen to music, read a book, play games and find slots to play squeeze a stress ball or just scroll through social media, watch a programme or play a game on your phone.
Communicate how you are feeling
So, you’ve already told the dentist your fears. The next step is to continue to be vocal about your anxiety. Every good dentist-patient relationship starts and ends with effective communication. Go through the treatment options with them and discuss the procedures you will undergo before they begin. Ask the dentist to keep talking to you to keep you informed during the procedure and agree signals or cues they will obey if you are feeling uncomfortable and want to take a break. Good dentists will be happy to listen to your instructions and will want to have a great rapport with you. Following these actions will also help you to feel in control of your appointment and reduce your anxiety.
A great way to manage the stress of a dental appointment is by giving yourself something to look forward to afterwards. Reward yourself for keeping calm and getting the treatment you needed by doing something fun like a weekend away or a trip to the spa. You could treat yourself to a new pair of shoes or those new speakers you’ve been hankering after. Big or small, whatever floats your boat, giving yourself rewards after visiting the dentist will help you to associate your appointments with positive feelings instead of fear. However, avoid treating yourself to sweets and other sugary snacks as they cause cavities and you’ll end up seeing the dentist more often, not that you’ll be scared anymore!