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Dental Anxiety

  • April 30, 2020

What is dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety is a gripping symptom; a  precursor to the knowledge of a dental visit and is common among people who have, in retrospect had a negative experience in a dental setting as a child or a grown adult. Dental anxiety is an umbrella term used to describe fear, anxiety, or stress that is triggered by a component of or the dental office as a whole. Often times, alarms for anxiety can be set off by the dread of needles, drills, or other sharp instruments available at the dentist. When dental anxiety spirals out of control and results in irrational fear and complete avoidance of the dentist, the term ‘dental phobia’ can suffice.

As children, we would get hefty bribes for brushing our teeth and threatened a visit to the dentist if we refused. It could be this hardwiring within us that has led most people to hold tight of this fear through adulthood. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 60% of adults in the United States experience some amount of fear in regards to a dental visit. Of that bulky percentage, about 5 to 10% of people exhibit a strong enough fear to be considered sufferers of dental phobia or odontophobia. 

Dentists have always faced a degree of stigma with how many people are punctual for their regular visits. The entire crux of the profession relies on a show of intimidating instruments and sharp etiquette, some of which can induce a sense of panic in the patient. But with the right technique, the dental operatory can seem welcoming and filled with warmth.

How do you know if you have dental anxiety?

cope with dental anxiety

People with dental anxiety often exhibit these signs:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Racing heartbeat or palpitations
  • Lightheadedness or feeling of fainting
  • Visible distress or crying
  • Breathlessness
  • Restlessness and signs of panic like nail-biting or fidgeting
  • Trouble getting a sound sleep the night before the dental appointment
  • Nauseated at the thought of visiting the dentist
  • Nervousness that escalates when at the dental office
  • Withdrawal 
  • Failure to show up for appointments

How can your dental anxiety affect your oral health?

People with dental anxiety tend to avoid all ways to confront their dentists. They go to huge lengths to make sure that they can stay away from dental visits. Often times than not, these neglected dental appointments result in the worsening of one’s oral health or dental condition. When dental visits are avoided for a long period of time, conditions that could have been easily treated like tooth decay can be detected only when significant damage has already ensued. More serious conditions like oral lesions could also have progressed to a dangerous extent when they finally get discovered. Learn more about 

What could cause dental anxiety?

Dental anxiety can develop as a result of some serious background issues that can cause fear to start compounding.

  • A history of traumatic dental experience
  • Severe injury to the head and neck region
  • Generalized conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety
  • Traumatic mental or physical abuse experiences
  • Extreme trust issues
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Claustrophobia or agoraphobia
  • Fear of pain or sharp objects like needles

How can you overcome dental anxiety?

Even though dental visits can be quite stressful, it is important to understand that overcoming dental anxiety is not impossible. In fact with these easy tips, you can get rid of your dental phobia!

  1. Let the dentist explain the procedure: Let your dentist walk you through the dental treatment procedures, make you understand the what’s and how’s of the treatment to make sure you do not feel out of the loop or out of control of the treatment. If at any point in the treatment you want to stop or take breaks, use hand gestures to signal a break.
  2. Let the dentist know your concerns: Is it the sound of the drill that stresses you out, or is it the smell of the sterile room? Letting your dentist know your troubles with accepting the environment can help them figure out ways to make you feel comfortable and at ease. If you are tensed or anxious, let them know.
  3. Focus on breathing regularly: When people are nervous they tend to hold their breath or breathe too quickly, which further escalates the feelings of panic. Meditation or deep breathing exercises before or during the dental procedure to focus on a slower, more regular breathing helps reduce stress levels. Guided imagery practices where you imagine a happier situation or setting and soothe your nerves.
  4. Indulge in distractions: People often like relishing in some good tunes to set aside feelings or fear, sadness, or stress. Listening to some of your favorite songs or listening to some funny or engaging podcasts can significantly help lower stress levels.
  5. Watch what you eat and drink: Avoid caffeine before a dental appointment as it can make you feel jittery and vulnerable. Sugary foods can also make you feel restless and at a sugar high, which may disrupt dental treatment. Consume high-protein foods to produce a calming effect.
  6. Choose a low-stress time: Book an appointment for a time that is not rushed and with fewer people. An early morning appointment can mean that you will not be under any pressure to rush through the treatment, instead, making you feel relaxed.
  7. Opt for sedation: If you feel like your dental anxiety cannot be controlled and will interfere with the treatment, ask your dentist for conscious sedation. This type of sedation can put you in a light sleep while still keeping you conscious enough to respond to verbal prompts, thus helping you fight off restlessness.

Dealing with dental anxiety and hysteria is a quintessential part of receiving quality treatment at the right time. Try out these hacks to effectively improve your dental visits.



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