It’s no secret that many people don’t look forward to seeing their dentist. Whether it’s due to a fear of pain, a phobia of needles, or general anxiety, it’s common for certain patients to feel some unease before an appointment.
But for some people, visiting a dental clinic brings on severe anxiety. Dental anxiety causes patients to miss appointments, delay necessary treatments, or neglect their oral health altogether.
Before your dentist appointment, you might experience a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and stress. Could you be dealing with dental anxiety? A telephone survey revealed that 9.8% of Canadians experience some anxiety about dental treatment.
If you deal with fear, stress, and anxiety before an appointment, you aren’t alone. But what can you do to make the dentist’s office a stress-free place? We’ve assembled a few tips to help you cope with dental anxiety:
What Is Dental Anxiety?
A dental phobia can develop in people of all ages. It may result from a bad experience or general anxiety. The anxiety may revolve around certain activities, like getting a needle, noise from the dental drill, or receiving anaesthesia.
One negative consequence of dental anxiety is that it causes patients to neglect their teeth. As oral health issues get worse, their anxiety only compounds—they know that more extensive treatments might be required. Without regular dental care, you could develop an infection that negatively affects your overall health. An untreated, damaged tooth causes pain that will interfere with your daily life.
Dealing with dental anxiety helps you avoid oral health complications. The solution is not to avoid seeing the dentist—instead, it’s trying to find effective coping strategies that help you manage your anxiety.
Talk To Your Dentist
Coping with dental anxiety isn’t easy. At Kingsway Dental Centre, we see many patients who deal with this condition. We know that dental phobia can make your visit stressful and uncomfortable.
Don’t feel embarrassed about bringing up your anxiety to the dentist! Telling them will help your dentist design a treatment plan that eases your discomfort. When your hygienist is aware of your dental anxiety, they’ll take extra care to make sure you feel relaxed. They’ll explain what they’re doing in detail to reduce any uncertainty you may feel. You can establish a signal with your dentist, like raising your hand, to show when you need a break.
Dental anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s a common condition for many patients. Telling your dentist about your concerns can help your next appointment go more smoothly.
Symptoms Of Dental Anxiety
If you suspect that you may be dealing with dental anxiety, take note of the following symptoms:
Low blood pressure
Do these symptoms describe your experience at the dentist? People deal with varying degrees of dental anxiety—you may deal with one or several of these symptoms.
What Can Trigger This Kind Of Anxiety?
The answer varies for everyone. For some, the sight of a needle or drill causes immediate anxiety. For others, simply stepping into the dental office triggers it. It might make your palms sweat to call the dentist and book your appointment—or, your anxiety may not set in until you’re in the clinic. Try to take note of which things trigger your anxiety. Anticipating a negative reaction can help prepare ourselves to manage it.
If you’re looking for information about coping with dental anxiety, we’ve put together a few tried-and-true methods:
Mindfulness & meditation
One way to practice mindfulness is to try deep breathing exercises. Breathing is something we do automatically—it’s easy to forget how impactful it can be to bring our attention to our breath. By doing that, we ground ourselves in a physical sensation rather than fleeting thoughts.
You can practice mindfulness almost anywhere. Start by taking a slow, deep breath. Choose a number to count to while you inhale and exhale. Then, start taking inventory of your body. Notice how each part feels, from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes.
Being present can help you recognize that you may be dealing with an irrational fear. Mindfulness coping strategies have proved to be effective for managing different types of anxiety.
You may not be able to make your dental anxiety disappear, but you can find ways to take your mind off it. Depending on your interests and preferences, you might find that some distraction techniques work better for you than others:
- Listening to music. Do you find that the sound of the drill triggers your dental anxiety? You can wear earbuds during your appointment to block out other sounds. Playing a relaxing album or watching one of your favourite shows can distance you from your anxiety.
- Visualization. Even though you’re at the dentist physically, you can take yourself elsewhere mentally. During your appointment, try closing your eyes and blocking out other stimuli. Imagine that you’re somewhere else. Everyone’s happy place looks a little different—for you, it might be your childhood home or a beautiful beach in Fiji.
- Stress balls. A stress toy can help get your mind off being at the dentist. To keep your hands busy, bring something to fiddle with, like a fidget spinner, squishy ball, or play-doh. This tip is especially helpful for children with dental anxiety.
Take someone with you
You don’t need to deal with your anxiety alone. To ease your stress, you might find it helpful to bring a friend or family member. Having someone hold your hand while your teeth are cleaned may be soothing. Be sure to run this idea by your dentist first to ensure there’s enough space in the treatment room.
Sedatives can help a patient with a dental phobia in minutes. Dentists use nitrous oxide (or “laughing gas”) to help people with debilitating anxiety. When inhaled, it creates feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Patients will be fully conscious during their treatment, but they’ll experience a diminished sense of anxiety. They may even feel a bit giggly, hence the nickname laughing gas. Once the desired level of calmness is reached, the dentist will stop administering the nitrous oxide and switch back to oxygen. The medication wears off in a short period, so most patients can drive themselves home after their appointment.
With some appointments, you may wish to receive general anaesthesia. This can be helpful during oral surgery, like when you need to have several wisdom teeth extracted.
Do you experience generalized anxiety? If so, it might be exacerbated when you visit the dentist. This condition may cause problems in several areas of your life, and it may be worth considering mental health treatment to address the root of the issue. When you speak with a professional therapist, you can learn techniques that make it easier to manage your anxiety.
If you deal with severe anxiety, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to take before dental visits. This medication is a short-term solution and won’t address the underlying causes of your anxiety, but it can make your next trip to the dentist a little easier.
You’ll typically need to take the medication one hour before your appointment. After, you will need to arrange for someone else to drive you home. Talk to your doctor if you think anti-anxiety medication may help with your next dentist appointment.
Is pain a concern for you? Taking an anti-inflammatory or other pain medication before your appointment may be helpful. This can reduce your sensitivity to any discomfort during your treatment.
Maintaining excellent oral hygiene
You want to take care of your teeth to keep them healthy throughout your lifetime. But if you have dental anxiety, another reason to preserve your oral health is to have fewer dentist appointments! The fewer trips you take to the dentist, the easier it is to deal with dental anxiety.
Keeping your teeth in top shape means that when you do schedule dental visits, you won’t need to feel as concerned with negative outcomes. It’s easier to manage dental anxiety when you’re going in for a regular cleaning, as opposed to a root canal or tooth extraction.
To improve your oral health, start by brushing twice a day, and flossing once daily. Avoid substances that damage your teeth, like tobacco, sugary foods, and sodas. Try to change your toothbrush every three months, and visit the dentist twice a year.
Call Your Dentist Today
Anxiety takes different forms for everyone. Some experience a rapid heartbeat and sweating at the dentist, while others feel nauseous and lightheaded. When managing dental anxiety, you might need to try a combination of coping techniques to find ones that work for you.
We hope that you find these dental anxiety tips helpful. At Kingsway Dental Centre, we put patient care first. If you experience anxiety at the dentist, we’ll do our best to accommodate you. Contact us today to schedule your next cleaning.