It is estimated that around 5% of the population have some form of clinically significant phobia, however when we look at dentistry it is estimated that between 9% and 15% of people avoid seeing the dentist because of some fear or anxiety (1). That equates to millions of people missing out on an opportunity to keep their dental health in excellent condition and smile with confidence.
To help go some way to overcoming those fears we’ve written, 8 tips to relaxing at the dentist:
- Talk to your dentist beforehand
- Book an introductory meeting
- Agree a stop signal
- Come early in the morning
- Bring a friend
- State educated and engaged about your treatment
- Stay sober
- Consider Sedation
Let’s look at each in turn:
Talk to your dentist beforehand
It might sound simple, but a dentist is trained to understand how patients feel when they visit. If your dentist knows that you are anxious or afraid then they can modify their treatment to help suit you. Your dentist can offer more frequent rests and check-in more often with you to make sure you are okay. They can also possibly modify the treatment to be quicker and have fewer appointments, so it’s always worth letting your dentist know and being honest about any anxiety.
Book an introductory meeting
Most dental practices will allow you to pop into visit them at any time, if you speak to one of the team members you may even be able to have a visit to the practice beforehand. This can help to allay your fears and concerns and get to know the surroundings in which you will be seen. This is of course entirely your choice, some people prefer to spend the least amount of time at the dentist as possible, and this is equally okay.
Agree a stop signal
Whenever you begin a treatment agree a stop signal with your dentist. Shouting out with your mouth full of dental equipment can often be difficult, agreeing that you will raise your left hand, for example, if there is a problem can be a good way to stay in control. Many people find that when they feel more in control that their anxiety and fears can reduce.
Come early in the morning
Rather than wait to the end of the day it’s often best to come to the dentist earlier in the morning if you are anxious. This means you don’t spend the whole day worrying and being concerned and can just get up, come to the dentist and then get on with your day. Again, if you talk to your dentist beforehand and explain that you would like an early appointment then they may be able to be more accommodating.
Bring a friend
Bringing a friend can be a good distraction from the dentist, but decide what you are going to talk about beforehand. There’s nothing worse than sitting in the patient waiting room with your friend staring blankly into space! Taking a little bit of time before your appointment to think about what you will discuss can be a great way to fill the time, think about holidays, celebrations or perhaps discuss happy memories with your friend.
Stay educated and engaged about your treatment
Sometimes the temptation can be to withdraw from treatment and not understand what’s going on. However if you stay engaged with your dentist and your treatment, within reason, it can help you feel as though you are more in control. Fear of the dentist often comes from a lack of control over the process and being engaged with your treatment means you can give your feedback and feel more confident.
The temptation may be to have a stiff drink before you come to the dentist but this can often have the opposite effect. Alcohol may make you feel even more anxious or afraid than you were before and in extreme could make you behave irrationally, there is certainly a link between alcohol and your dental fear as found in a 2014 study (2)… Not to mention needing to go to the toilet more often if you had a drink!
One way that can really help with dental anxiety and even phobia is to consider dental sedation. Dental sedation comes in a couple of forms allowing you to relax and drift off into your own world whilst treatment commences. If you have intravenous sedation you will need to come with a trusted friend who will need to stay with you for a few hours afterwards to ensure you are okay.
Summary to overcome dental anxiety
Communication is the real key, talking keeps you engage with treatment which means you are more in control and communicating accurately how you feel with your dentist will mean your dentist can modify the treatment and/or appointment times to suit you and feel more comfortable. As the old advert says… It’s good to talk, and it really is!
This post has been written by Dr Ajay Murgai, he is a highly experienced General and Cosmetic Dental Surgeon. Dr Ajay runs clinics in Hertfordshire, South Oxfordshire and Harley Street, and carries out a full spectrum of treatments from Aesthetic Dentistry to routine examinations.