What Is Dental Anxiety?
If just thinking about your biannual dentist appointment makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Dental anxiety, or a fear of visiting the dentist, is extremely common, affecting between 30 and 50 million people. There are varying degrees of dental anxiety, ranging from minor stress to severe phobia, and common causes include a fear of pain, feelings of helplessness, embarrassment, or negative past experiences.
What Can It Lead to?
If dental anxiety is extreme enough that it’s causing you to avoid dental appointments, your oral health will likely suffer. Skipping regular checkups can put you at a higher risk of developing gum disease and early tooth loss, and other dental issues like tooth decay and wisdom tooth infection can go undiagnosed and untreated. Beyond that, a person’s overall health is closely tied to their oral health, so it’s important to keep up with regular appointments.
How to Combat It
If you have dental anxiety, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize it:
- Speak up. Talk to your dentist or hygienist about your anxiety. He or she will be able to explain exactly what you can expect from any procedure, so you’re not left with the worry of the unknown. Patients often admit that their fear of the procedure was worse than the procedure itself.
- Distract yourself. If the sounds of dental instruments bother you, wear headphones and listen to an audiobook, podcast, or your favorite music. Bring a stress ball or small hand-held object to occupy your hands. Some dental offices even provide in-room TVs to keep you busy throughout treatment.
- Practice mindfulness. Relax your mind through focused breathing techniques. Practice counting during your inhale breaths, and try to match that count when you exhale. This allows your mind to focus on something other than the procedure. You can also concentrate on your muscles, trying to relax one at a time, working from your head to your toes.
- Ask for a numbing agent. Everyone has a different threshold for pain, so never be afraid to ask for numbing gel, local anesthesia, or sedation (like nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas”) to minimize potential pain.
Dentists deal with patient anxiety on a daily basis, so they are fully equipped to take the steps necessary to keep you comfortable throughout your appointment.