Avoiding Your Dentist? How To Handle Dental Fear And Anxiety

If you're weary about going to the dentist or avoid going until you have painful problems, you're not alone. Peter Milgrom, DDS, the director of the Dental Fears Research Clinic at the University of Washington, estimates that between 5 and 10 percent of Americans avoid going to the dentist due to fear, and another 20 percent experience anxiety severe enough that they avoid dental visits unless it's completely necessary. Here's what to do to help quell your fears so you can get back to regular visits with your family dentist and take care of your oral health.

Analyze Your Fear

The first step to handling your fears is to recognize and acknowledge exactly what you're afraid of and what may have caused those fears. Ask yourself these questions to help you determine where your fears originate so you can discuss them with your dentist.

  • Did you have an upsetting or painful dental procedure in the past? What happened and how did you feel during and afterward (angry, fearful, anxious, etc.)?
  • Do you fear painful procedures? Are you concerned you'll need a cavity filled or a root canal or another procedure you anticipate as painful?
  • Are you afraid of needles and fear the local anesthetic often used to numb areas that need special attention? 
  • Do you feel anxious about the loss of personal space and control? It's easy to feel vulnerable and exposed when you're in a dentist's chair with your mouth open.
  • Are you embarrassed about the state of your teeth or your face? Many people feel anxious about having a person so close to their faces with bright lights shining on them.

What to Do to Minimize the Fear

One of the most important things you can do to help you work through your fear of the dentist is to tell him or her about your concerns. Dentists are used to fearful patients, so try not to feel embarrassed or silly. If you're honest and open, it will be much easier for your dentist to be your partner in working through your fears. 

  • Take a moment to breathe deeply and relax your muscles before you head back to the chair. Even just a few deep breaths as you walk back can ease anxiety significantly.
  • Ask your dentist to explain exactly what will be done during your visit. Set up a signal you can use to tell your dentist to stop and give you a break if you find you're getting too upset. Raising a hand is a good gesture to use.
  • Inquire about any options to help relax or sedate you, such as nitrous oxide (commonly referred to as laughing gas), local anesthetic or oral sedatives.
  • Bring music and headphones or earbuds so you can listen to soothing music while your dentist works on your teeth.
  • Let your dentist know if there's anything that would make you more comfortable during your exam or procedure. Some people don't like leaning all the way back in the chair or having the overhead light shining in their eyes. While your dentist might need to keep you at a certain angle, he or she will accommodate as much as possible.

Speak with a dentist at a practice like Mooresville Dental Care to learn about steps that can be taken to create a more relaxing check-up experience.