Dental anxiety or dental phobia affects a surprisingly large amount of the population. Nearly 30% of all the population feel anxious about going to the dentist. 5-10% of us have a fear so strong that it prevents us going to the dentist at all. Of course this tends to exacerbate the problem and means that when we finally HAVE to go to the dentist we are in such more oral health that the treatments we need are invasive and add to our dental problems. Tackling your dental anxiety is an absolute must for your overall health and your oral health. With that in mind we decided to look at some of the best ways to overcome your dental anxiety.
1. Understand the underlying causes
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The first thing you need to do is understand why you have dental anxiety. It could be that you associate visiting the dentist with pain (from treatment as a child), it could be that you find having things in your mouth (negative oral fixation) troubling or it could be deeper phobias around control. There are many underlying factors that contribute to dental phobias and fears. If you can understand your own symptoms you will be one step closer to overcoming them.
2. Talk to a Dentist
Talking to your dentist means that you can have someone to share your fears with and work out solutions. If you talk to your dentist they will be able to suggest ways to put you at ease. You can agree a signal to give your dentist when you need a break or you can make sure that you schedule sessions at times that will make you more relaxed. You might want your dentist to simply talk you through the treatment process and reassure you as you go along. For severe dental phobias you can resort to general anaesthetic – though this is only used in severe cases of dental phobia.
3. Use Distractions
Distracting yourself during your treatment is a great way to make the dentist seem less scary. You can distract yourself in a variety of ways and will need to choose something that suits your own personality. Some of the best techniques can be listening to calming music, chatting to the nurse or imagining yourself elsewhere. Even something as simple as trying to count to a thousand in your head can be a fantastic distraction technique. Find something that will work for you and will make your brain thing of things other than dentistry.
4. Use Controlled breathing
Controlled breathing allows you to focus your mind completely on something else whilst relaxing you and enabling you to breath. One of the key causes of dental anxiety is the feeling of gagging and having your breathing interrupted by dental implements in your mouth. Having control of your breathing will enable you to ignore the dental treatment taking place. A simple breathing technique involves inhaling for 3 seconds through your nose then exhaling for 3 seconds through your nose. This technique is great if you want to focus on your breathing and relax during treatments.
Exercising releases endorphins that make you happier and more relaxed. I wouldn’t suggest running a marathon before you visit the dentist but a light walk or a quick cycle should help your body relax before you actually begin your treatments. Exercising regularly improves your overall health and wellbeing anyway and has been shown by repeated studies to improve mental functions and mental health. This is a great way to feel a lot more relaxed about your health overall – and make visiting the dentist easier.
6. Practice better oral hygiene routines
One of the most important ways to make visiting the dentist less anxiety inducing is to make sure you keep your teeth and mouth in the best possible condition. This can be done in a number of ways but the most important is to have a set routine that actually cleans your teeth efficiently and effectively. This means brushing twice a day for at least two minutes, flossing regularly, using mouth wash and chewing ‘chewing gum’. Having a good oral hygiene routine means that trips to the dentist shouldn’t involve actually encountering any problems – instead you should just be able to enjoy a quick check up.
7. Develop a better diet
At the same time as having good oral hygiene makes trips to the dentist less fear inducing having a better diet can help alleviate your dental anxiety. Having a healthy diet improves your mood and helps your body stay relaxed. Avoiding foods that damage your teeth is essential to maintaining good oral hygiene. You want to avoid sugary drinks, caffeine (which stains your teeth) and smoking (which weakens the gums). Improving your diet will make it easier for your body to fight diseases as well so this is really essential. By improving your diet you can make trips to the dentist much less of a cause for concern.
8. Consider Counselling
If these techniques don’t help you to overcome your dental anxiety then you may need to consider counselling to tackle the underlying, root causes of your dental phobia. For more extreme cases – cases where even going to the dentist is seemingly impossible – counselling and therapy can help you to reach a place where dental fears are dealt with. It can be very difficult and may take several years to achieve results but the underlying symptoms of serious dental phobia can be treated. Talk to your doctor about counsellors or visit a specialist. Dental phobia is common enough that you can find specialists in most major cities worldwide. It will help to realise you are not alone and that you can work through these issues.
Dental phobias don’t have to be debilitating and you don’t want to put your oral health in serious jeopardy. By working through your dental phobias you can make visiting the dentist a lot less of a chore. I personally have found controlled breathing and changes in my routine sufficient cures for my own dental anxiety and I hope these techniques will help some of you too.