Overcoming Dental Fear and Anxiety
An estimated 20% of North Americans experience enough anxiety that they will go to the dentist only when absolutely necessary.
At our North Vancouver Dental Clinic, we recognize that fear of dentists is actually one of the most common phobias in today’s world. Dental phobia refers to the feeling of intense fear or anxiety that is experienced in association to dentists or dental visits. Having a little or even a lot of nervousness about dental visits is common. Some studies have concluded that up to 75% of people surveyed have at least a little fear about dental visits. As with any phobia, people experience it in varying levels of intensity, from mild worry to extreme anxiety. One factor about dental phobia that is important to emphasize, however, is that this type of phobia is commonly more disruptive of people’s lives and health than some other phobias. This is because dental phobia commonly prevents people from visiting the dentist regularly, and it commonly leads to the development of a distrust of dentists and their advice. This easily leads to deteriorating oral health, perpetual gum disease and, in some cases, tooth loss.
If you have dental phobia, there is no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed because of it. You’re not weird, and you’re not a freak. Your phobia is valid, and it’s not a result of your fault or any weakness. It can be an obstacle to your oral and overall health, but that doesn’t mean that dental ailments are inevitable; this phobia, like other phobias, can be overcome.
At Valley Centre Dental Group, we cultivate a philosophy of gradual approach to treat dental phobias.
Find the Cause
A good first step to take when facing your phobia is to look for the root causes of it. No one is born being afraid of dental visits. So everyone who is afraid has learned somewhere that dental treatment is something to fear. There are a variety of reasons that people develop dental phobia; it’s different for everyone. Below is a general list of common categories that these causes typically fall under:
- A poor experience at a dentist’s office in the past or past experiences of medical malpractice.
- Stories or hypothetical situations that have been told to you by friends or family regarding unpleasant visits to the dentist or “what could go wrong.”
- Feelings of lost control when in the dentist’s chair.
- Self-consciousness about the state of your oral health.
- The sights and sounds that are unique to a dentist’s office (the dental gowns, masks, equipment noises).
Figuring out what exactly makes you so scared or anxious of the dentist is the first step to gaining understanding of your phobia. It also allows you to address the root cause rather than a vague feeling.
Helpful Tips for Your Journey
Overcoming this obstacle is a journey; it’s something that you have to actively work on. It’s not going to happen overnight—no one is expecting it to, and neither should you. It’s also not something that’s going to go away on its own. Depending on the person and the level of severity of the phobia, different techniques work in different cases. Some people enlist the help of a therapist along the way of their journey, and others don’t; neither is superior to the other. Your journey is entirely your own; it’s not a competition or a comparison. Wherever your journey takes you, here are some common helpful tips that you can keep with you on your journey:
- You’re not alone. Reach out to friends and family or even others with dental phobia about your phobia. Breaking the silence can many times break the shame. Surround yourself with support.
- Find a dentist that is willing to work with you and be accommodating of your comfort zone. There are plenty of sympathetic dentists out there; don’t stick with one that doesn’t have the time to care.
- Be honest with your dentist. Your dentist, ultimately, wants to help you. It might be hard to believe at first, but try trusting us and see how it goes.
- Familiarize yourself with dental procedures so you know exactly what’s going on. Sometimes ignorance creates fear in itself; knowledge can bring light to this area.
- There are many anesthetics and techniques available to make you more comfortable and eliminate any pain or discomfort throughout the procedures
Getting to Calm and Safe
As we said earlier, it’s possible, even for those people who are the most fearful, to reduce their fear and to learn to have dental treatment in a way that feels calm and safe. Our philosophy is really very simple. In order to counteract past bad experiences you need to have new positive experiences which lead to the development of improved feelings and attitudes. The more bad experiences you have had or the longer they have gone on, the more good experiences you need before you will have different reactions to the same situation. We know that your mouth is a very personal place and trust is a big part of allowing us to partner in your care.
- Tell us if you are afraid, even when setting up an appointment. We are prepared to listen. If you can’t talk about it you can’t get over it.
We are very careful to listen to what you say and try to understand your “story”.
- We listen in an accepting and non-judgmental way.
We avoid saying that things will be different, that there is nothing to worry about, or that there is anything wrong with you being afraid. We also avoid any explanations about dental disease or dental procedures until we are sure that you know that we understand your fear and are committed to working with you to help you overcome it. We know that the best way for us to convey that we care is to listen, not to provide explanations. You should feel confident that you are not being judged. Of course, some people are better at this than others. If you are afraid, find a dentist who listens to you and who cares about working with you to get over your fear. We feel that we have made ourselves experts in this area.
- When working to reduce fear, only do things that you can do with mild or no anxiety.
We reassure our patients that they are in control of the situation at all times. We need you to tell us exactly what you are afraid of since it’s different for everyone. It’s critical that we understand what brings on your particular fear reactions. We will start by having you try to do those things that you feel you can do fairly easily. The idea is for you to have the goal of being able to leave each visit saying “that was OK; I could certainly do that again if I needed to.”
- Set up an agreement so you can take whatever time you need to get over your fear and not be rushed to do things you are not ready to do.
Let’s stop to emphasize the last point, since this can be a significant shift in expectations. In order to help someone get over their fear of dental procedures, the goal for each visit is for you to have a good experience rather than getting a particular procedure finished. Remember, if you push yourself to do something you are really afraid of, you will remember how unpleasant your fear is and reinforce the fear rather than diminish it.
- If you are afraid, work with us and make a specific plan to reduce your fear. Don’t just concentrate on “fixing your teeth!”
It’s critical that both the dentist and patient agree that becoming comfortable with dental procedures is something that they are going to work on. Understand that you and your dentist must consider your internal anxiety feelings by working at a pace where you will be more comfortable and trusting. Set up an agreement with your dentist to talk about the time and fees associated with treatment so you can comfortably overcome your fear and not be rushed to do things you are not ready to do. This may result in a procedure taking a little longer than usual to complete or spreading out appointments over the course of time.
So, you have a fear of dentistry and you need to talk with someone about overcoming this fear? Contact us at our Lynn Valley office in North Vancouver and we can talk about this and map out together the best treatment plan for you.