What emotions do you feel when you think of booking a dental appointment? Dental anxiety is a term used to mean fear in a setting where dental services are provided, e.g., before or during dental treatment.
High dental anxiety affects approximately 1 in 6 Australian adults and about 1 in 10 children. Dental phobia, which is high dental fear that impacts significantly on someone’s life, affects about 5% of the Australian population (1).
This is part 2 of a 2-part series on dental anxiety. Last week I covered some of the causes of dental anxiety, and this week I’ll cover some of the actions you can take to help yourself overcome it.
How dental anxiety or phobia can affect your oral health
The good news is that most dental disease is preventable, e.g. by education on lifestyle factors and dental hygiene, and by having minor dental work completed early on before a disease develops.
The lifestyle factors that lead to dental disease are very similar to those that lead to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and some cancers, so taking care of your oral and general health is very important.
By avoiding going to the dentist, not only are you more likely to need more complex treatments when you do finally attend, but you are also missing out on learning how to better care for your oral health. This means that you may need more (and more complex) dental work later on. This is known as the ‘vicious cycle of dental anxiety’ (5).
How to minimise dental anxiety or dentophobia
In this section I have listed some ideas on how you can overcome anxiety or phobias so that you can visit the dentist.
If your anxiety is severe and prevents you attending the dentist, it is best to consult with a qualified professional before beginning dental treatment. Dentophobia and dental anxiety are both recognised and treatable conditions.
Hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy can often help people with anxiety or dentophobia. Clients learn how to use techniques (e.g. relaxation and positive visualisation) as well as using CBT to take control of unwanted thoughts and feelings.
So if you currently have dental anxiety or phobia, contact Lisa on 0403 932311 for a confidential chat about options to help you feel happier about dental visits, and enjoy better dental health.
You may wish to choose a dentist specialising in treating people with dental anxiety. Please also be aware that today’s dentistry is much different than what you may remember.
Be aware that every dentist wants their patients to feel calm and relaxed, as this makes their job easier. Consider that dentistry is like working in the world’s tiniest garage (6). A calm patient would make the job so much easier!
Schedule an initial consultation without a dental exam. When you book the appointment, explain that you suffer from dentophobia and are not ready to book a full exam. This initial appointment will allow you to develop a rapport with the dentist and get used to his manner and demeanor.
Remember that you are always in control if you are having dental treatment. Agree a signal with the dentist that you can use when you need a break, and a different signal to let him / her know that you need more anaesthetic. Even such matters as how far back the chair is tilted and the order of work performed can be discussed in advance.
Take something to distract you – something to play music, maybe a talking book which you can listen to during treatment.
Be aware of the triggers of the phobia or anxiety ( e.g. needles, drills or the dental office in general) and communicate these to the dentist so that he / she is aware of this and can work with you to minimise the negative effect.
Feel grateful for your teeth and for the availability of good dental care. Research shows that people who practice gratitude are more optimistic, (as our mind cannot focus on positive and negative information at the same time), healthier, and less anxious (7).
Hypnotherapy can help with the causes and the symptoms of dental fears and phobias. If you have a fear, helping you to relax, and visualise a positive outcome for your procedure may be all that is required.
Alternatively, if you have a dental phobia, hypnotherapy can help with this too. Give Lisa a call on 0403 932311 for an obligation-free chat on how hypnotherapy could help you.
- Armfield JM. The extent and nature of dental fear and phobia in Australia. Aust Dent J 2010;55:368-377.