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Dentophobia: How to Face Your Fear of the Dentist

If the mere thought of going to the dentist makes your palms sweat or kicks you into a full-on anxiety attack, you’re not alone. Up to 75% of people have experienced a fear of dental treatment at some point in their life and as many as 10% have Dentophobia that can prevent them from accessing the dental care they need to be healthy.

Everyone is afraid of something. If you are terrified of spiders, the solution is obvious–avoid spiders. But you shouldn’t avoid the dentist. Doing so puts you at risk for gum disease and tooth loss, increases the threat of heart disease and lung infections, and could even be deadly.

Plus, the longer you put off your dental appointment, the more likely it is to be an unpleasant experience. However, when you visit your dental care provider two times every year and practice healthy dental hygiene habits at home you’ll have nothing to fear!

Do you have Dental Anxiety or Dental Phobia?

Do you feel stressed or uneasy before or during your dental appointment? Does your heart beat faster at the sound of a dental drill? It’s not unusual to feel that way. Feeling as if you have no control or the thought of discovering issues that require further treatment can make anyone want to skip their dental appointment. Dental anxiety is common.

Dentophobia is less common. It is an intense fear of going to the dentist. Dentophobia can present as difficulty eating or sleeping as your dental appointment nears, feeling physically ill or very emotional before your appointment, or may cause you to have trouble breathing before your appointment.

Dentophobia is often caused by an unpleasant experience at the dentist, past complications around dental treatment, or other past trauma. Unfortunately, dentophobia also causes unpleasant or complicated dental treatment because avoiding the dentist only makes matters worse! Not only does visiting the dentist regularly help you avoid more complex issues, but it also makes it feel more routine–something you don’t have to worry about.

Can you pass Dental Anxiety along to your child?

If your fear of the dentist means you avoid taking your child to get dental care, you’re setting your child up for the same fearful behavior. It’s important that children receive routine dental care in order to grow up healthy. Without a healthy smile, you don’t have a healthy child.

Overcoming Your Fears

The first step to overcoming your dental anxiety or phobia is to talk about it! Explain your situation when you make your appointment and remind the staff once you arrive. Your dental office should be prepared to help put you at ease. (If they’re not willing to help you, find a new dentist!)

Here are a few ways dental professionals can help patients deal with dental anxiety or phobias. 

  • When your dentist or dental hygienist is aware of your anxiety they can help walk you through the procedure so you know exactly what to expect. They can also tell you what they are about to do at each step so you won’t feel so out of control.
  • Some dental offices offer a therapy dog as a way to help calm their anxious patients! 
  • Patients who are anxious may benefit from nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help them relax. Your dentist may also prescribe valium for you to take on the day of your visit to ease your nerves.
  • Agree on a signal to use when you need a break. Simply raising your hand is enough to let your dentist or hygienist know you need a moment to breathe.

Here are Ways YOU Can Face Your Fear:

  • Do research to find a dentist that you are comfortable with. Ask your friends to recommend a dentist that is gentle and understands dental anxiety.
  • Try to schedule your appointment for first thing in the morning so you won’t have the whole day to dread your dental visit.
  • Avoid additional stress by scheduling your appointment on a day when you won’t be in a rush to go anywhere else. Give yourself something to look forward to by planning to do something relaxing that you love afterward. 
  • To help you stay calm avoid eating or drinking anything that contains a lot of sugar or caffeine on the day of your appointment.
  • Bring a trusted friend or family member with you to your appointment. 
  • Meet with the dentist before your appointment and share what makes you uncomfortable or afraid.
  • Bring a comforting object to the dental appointment such as a stress ball or comforting music. Some people listen to a funny podcast while they wait to help distract them and relieve tension.
  • Before and during your appointment try relaxation techniques such as meditation or positive self-talk.
  • If overcoming dental phobia seems impossible, talk to a psychologist about behavioral therapies that can help. Your future smile and health depend on it!

How to Prevent Fear of the Dentist in Children:

  • The earlier you take your child for dental care, the better. Kids should have their first dental visit as soon as their first tooth emerges but no later than their first birthday. These early visits help children build trust with their dental care providers to help avoid anxiety as they grow up.
  • If your child is older but has not yet been to the dentist, help them build a positive expectation by reading fun books or watching videos about visiting the dentist. (Find lots of fun ways to teach kids about oral health and visiting the dentist by clicking here.)
  • If your child already knows they will need to have a cavity filled, reassure them that the dentist will use special medicine that will block pain. Avoid using the words “shots” or “needles” (most pediatric dentists can administer pain-numbing medication without the child ever seeing the needle or syringe.)
  • Allow your child to bring a favorite toy, security blanket, or game to distract them from worrying.
  • Keep your child focused on positive thoughts such as how bright their smile will appear after a good cleaning or a fun reward they can expect when their visit is over.
  • Chances are dental techniques have improved greatly since you were a child, so if you had a bad experience at the dentist keep it to yourself. Express any concerns you have with the dental team, but not within earshot of your child.
  • Give them lots of praise for being brave during and after their visit.

Remember, taking care of yourself and your child is important. Routine dental care is not optional. It’s essential in order to live a healthy life. Overcoming dental anxiety is empowering. And it’s worth it. 

More about dental anxiety:

Video: How dental professionals can end fear of the dentist.

Looking for a resource to help teens face their dental fears? Check out this video: How to Overcome Dental Anxiety (Teeth Talk Girl)

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