Are you afraid of the dentist? You’re not alone. It is estimated that up to 75% of adults in the US experience some degree of fear of the dentist, from mild to severe. Somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of US adults have dental phobia and go out of their way to avoid dental care or treatment until an emergency crops up. This is called the “cycle of avoidance,” where avoiding the dentist leads to complications that require more invasive treatment, which only reinforces their fear.
Preventative Care Matters
When people avoid the dentist, small problems that could have been spotted or repaired can become big problems. This isn’t necessary. There are ways to cope with dental anxiety that can lessen your fear and help you avoid complications that come from oral neglect.
Talk to Your Dentist
The most important factor in conquering your fear of dentists is actually working with your dentist. There are several techniques you or your dentist can use that will help you feel in control and lessen your pain.
If you are experiencing dental anxiety, your dentist can help by making sure you’re aware and able to ask questions during most steps of the procedures you will be undergoing, or prior to your care. This will help you feel in charge of what’s happening to you, which is known to cut down on both anxiety and pain. Many dentists are used to their patients having some degree of fear and are willing to work with you for your own health.
Put Yourself in Charge
There are also behavioral treatments you can undertake that will help you at the dentist and in other areas of your life. Controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two ways you can put yourself in control and focus on other things. With a good dentist, you can use a technique called systematic desensitization, which is a form of exposure therapy. Some people think this is “pushing through it” but if you approach your fears with an understanding of tricks you can use to lessen your fear, and then practice them in during exposure, you can gradually conquer your fear.
There are online support groups full of helpful tips and success stories for dealing with dental anxiety. You may find some of these helpful for finding other techniques or getting more information.
It’s important to talk to your dentist about what options are available for you and work with them to come up with a plan that will allow you to cope with your dental anxiety. Don’t be afraid to admit to your dentist that you are dealing with fear. Helping patients overcome their issues with dental care is something dentists deal with every day, and a good working relationship with your dentist will prevent a lot of problems that would spawn from lack of routine dental care.