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Do you get anxious about dental visits? Trust us–you’re not alone. Research shows that more than 35 percent of Americans are afraid of the dentist, and 12 percent have extreme fear. As your family dentist, we don’t want fear or anxiety to prevent you from getting needed care. We also strive to create an environment where patients are comfortable sharing their concerns with our team. Finally, we want to avoid passing on negative perceptions to our kids and help them develop positive attitudes about oral healthcare.
What Causes Fear of the Dentist?
When you experience extreme fear of the dentist, we call it a dental phobia. Causes of dental phobias include:
- Past negative experiences with dental care. You may have had a painful treatment or a dentist who failed to provide compassionate care in the past.
- Fear of losing control. When we’re in the dentist’s chair, we make ourselves vulnerable in ways that aren’t part of other healthcare visits. Sometimes we’re in situations where we can’t clearly express ourselves or let our dentist know when we’re uncomfortable or in pain.
- Our gag reflex is an involuntary reaction that can increase our sense of losing control. Patients may also worry about choking.
- Embarrassment. Patients may avoid dental care because of unsightly or embarrassing oral health problems. If we’ve neglected oral care, sharing our condition with our dentist can be a big hurdle. Having a responsive and non-judgmental dentist is essential.
- Generational fear. Parents and family members can shape the way we feel about dental care. If you grew up in a home where a dentist’s visit was something to be feared, it can be tough to break the cycle.
- Discomfort with the office environment. For many people, the sounds and smells of a dentist’s office can spark fear. Many of us feel anxiety at the sound of a drill, and the smells of a healthcare setting can be problematic for sensitive individuals.
- Fear of needles/fear of blood. Patients may associate the dentist with novocaine shots, even though we rarely need them for preventive care. Patients may also be overwhelmed by the idea or sight of blood, even though most dental procedures involve little or no blood, especially at routine checkups.
How Can I Overcome My Dental Phobias?
We have many options for addressing phobias. Your family dentist, doctor and mental health professionals can all play a role in conquering your fears and getting the oral healthcare you need.
- Sedation dentistry plays a significant role in helping patients with dental phobias get successful dental care. Using nitrous oxide, oral medications and IV sedation, your dentist can help you through complex procedures without pain or anxiety.
- Distraction techniques, including music and videos, can help take patients’ focus off their fears.
Mental healthcare providers use exposure therapy to help patients with dental phobias. Exposure therapy gives patients incremental positive experiences with the dentist’s office to help them get used to practices in a non-threatening way. Patients might start by watching videos. It can include watching videos of dentists’ offices and visiting an office without getting treatment to get used to the environment. Finally, patients move on to a low-stress visit with a simple cleaning before diving into treatment.
- Talk therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help patients recognize and replace negative thoughts about dental care, change their behaviors and reactions and develop coping strategies.
- Working with a mental health professional or alternative therapy provider, patients can use relaxation techniques, including visualization and breathing techniques, to remain calm during dental visits.
- Some patients benefit from alternative therapies, including hypnotherapy and acupuncture, to help them reduce stress during dental visits.
How Can I Help My Child Have Healthy Feelings About Going to the Dentist?
Negative attitudes towards the dentist can pass from generation to generation. It’s a cycle that many parents want to break. The good news is that even if you have dental phobias or anxiety, you can help your child develop positive feelings about your family dentist.
- Pay attention to how you talk about the dentist with your children. Instead of discussing dental care negatively, focus on positive interactions with staff and the importance of regular checkups.
- Talk about what your child looks forward to at the dentist: connecting with a favorite hygienist, choosing a favorite polish flavor or getting a new toothbrush or small toy as a reward for a successful visit.
- Be a role model. Work through your fears with your dentist and other providers while keeping a positive attitude with your kids.
- Help your child stick with good oral health habits all year long. Excellent oral care at home makes painful dental health problems less likely and makes visits to the dentist more positive.
- How Can My Family Dentist Help Me With Dental Anxiety?
Managing severe dental anxiety is a team effort by patients, family dentists and mental healthcare professionals. Your family dentist does his part by building a trusting, non-judgmental relationship with each patient. As a longtime family dentist, Dr. Hall compassionately serves patients of all ages. We’ve had great success with nitrous oxide sedation dentistry, helping the most anxious patients get needed care. Our entire team works to be responsive to patient concerns and create a safe and welcoming environment.