Dental anxiety is the fearful feeling you get when you think about going to the dentist or orthodontist; dental fear is an immediate response to a threatening event. Since anxiety is a feature of the mind, it can be reduced or resolved with a variety of breathing techniques or psychological techniques. Would you like to learn how to overcome your fears and anxieties surrounding your next dental visit? Then just keep reading.
Understanding Dental Anxiety
Fear and anxiety are common experiences, especially when visiting the dentist or orthodontist. Someone might anticipate the pain or discomfort they will feel post-treatment, and others might experience the fear of losing control or shame about their teeth. Some fears combine, creating strong anxiety.
- Fears and Concerns: Patients experience dental anxiety prior to treatment. They might experience negative emotions when thinking about the procedure or how they will feel after the treatment. Dental fear is a reaction to a specific threat in the moment.
- Past Experiences: People who have had negative dental experiences in the past might carry stored-up traumas about dental procedures and display an aversion to dental treatment. Negative past experiences can heighten dental anxiety before treatment.
- Loss of Control: The world is unpredictable, and our brains have evolved to organize it in some way. When things are predictable, they are under control, and we feel safe; but at the dental office, we’re in the hands of someone else, which can be scary for some people.
- Embarrassment or shame: Some people might feel anxious about going to the dentist/orthodontist because of the condition of their teeth, a new specialist they have to see, or the cost of repairing their teeth. This anxiety can combine with other concerns and experiences.
Strategies to Overcome Dental Anxiety
The last thing you want to do is attend your dental appointment unprepared, so if you know you have dental anxiety, it makes sense to identify a few techniques that can help you overcome it before your appointment and when you are in the chair. There are many techniques available.
Effective Communication with Dental Offices
- Openly discussing fears and concerns: The best person to resolve fear and anxiety is the person with fear and anxiety. Talking openly with your dental practitioner about your fears and concerns helps you process the feelings and gives you more confidence in the process.
- Seeking explanations and clarification: Often, fears and concerns result from inadequate information – perhaps you have your idea of a procedure based on third-party data. Talking to a professional is the best way to get qualified information.
- Deep breathing: Whether you are anxious prior to treatment or in the dental chair, deep breathing can help you remain calm and composed. Whatever your situation, breathe steadily through your nostrils into your abdomen, focusing on the movements.
- Muscle relaxation: Sitting in the dental chair can be a tense experience, which is why PMR techniques are a great option. For example, squeeze your fists together for a moment and then allow them to relax; this process can be used for any of your muscles.
- Positive visualizations: When you are in the middle of a stressful situation like a dental appointment, positive visualizations can help. Imagine how you will feel when the procedure has finished, or picture a beautiful place where you have spent some time.
Another helpful way to overcome dental anxiety during treatment is by using distraction techniques. Distracting yourself provides a focus for the mind while dental work is done.
- Watch TV during appointments: As a way of reducing anxiety and making the procedure more comfortable, some dental offices have a television to watch. Take advantage of this if you experience dental anxiety to distract you from discomfort.
- Listen to music with headphones: If your dental office does not have a television, you can distract yourself successfully with headphones or earbuds. Use an audiobook or music for distraction, but remember, you might associate the media with discomfort.
Overcoming Dental Anxiety
Anxiety is an emotion, the same as anger, sadness, happiness, and boredom. Emotions are fluid and always changing, which is good news if you have fearful feelings about the dental visits. There are many techniques you can utilize to help you transform anxiety into something else.
Fear of Pain
Discuss anesthesia: Depending on the dental work, you may or may not need anesthesia or a numbing agent. If you experience high anxiety, it’s worth speaking to your dental expert about your options. Local anesthetic can be a helpful way to reduce dental discomfort.
Explore pain management techniques: There are plenty of natural ways to manage pain, such as breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, and positive visualizations. A dental practitioner might also offer you a local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, or intravenous sedation to manage discomfort.
Address negative past experiences: Anxiety can develop because of a negative past experience, perhaps a painful experience at the dental office or something you heard about the procedure. Exploring past experiences in talking therapy can resolve your fear and anxiety.
Express concerns to dental staff: Making the dental staff aware of your past trauma and current anxieties is a helpful way to manage the procedure. When a specialist is aware of your sensitivities and disposition, they can take steps to manage your anxieties on the chair.
Preparation for Dental Appointments
If you have a dental appointment on the horizon and you feel anxious about it, you can prepare for it by getting plenty of sleep the night before and maintaining a healthy diet. Putting the right foundations in place before your dental visit helps to prepare your mind and reduce anxieties.
Getting enough sleep: Anxiety can be stronger when you are tired, so make you get enough sleep the night before a dental appointment. Getting at least eight hours of sleep through the night resets the nervous system and relaxes the mind, so you are in the best place the next day.
Maintain a healthy diet: Maintaining a healthy diet is important no matter your life situation, but it can also help reduce dental visits and ensure you are in the best condition going into an appointment. When you eat a healthy diet, you support your body and mind by reducing anxiety.
Dental anxiety can affect your health and quality of life, resulting in you avoiding the help you need, for instance, leading to further dental issues. However, plenty of support and techniques are available to help manage and resolve dental anxiety and enjoy better well-being.
Dr. Bill Redmond is a native of Southern California, the son of an orthodontist and the husband of a general dentist. That makes family gatherings pretty interesting…if you like teeth!