We know that going to the dentist isn’t everyone’s favourite activity, but for some it can be a great source of fear and anxiety. Dental anxiety is incredibly common and is estimated to affect more than 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 10 children. How dental anxiety manifests can be different from person to person, however, in the long term it can result in delaying dental treatment or even avoidance of the dentist altogether. Whilst we hope that walking through our front door doesn’t send you into a panic, we understand that everyone’s dental experience is different. We’ve put together some information on dental anxiety that we hope will make your next trip to the dentist a little less stressful.
What causes dental anxiety?
What causes dental anxiety is different from person to person. For some people, the fear response is triggered as a result of a traumatic dental experience in the past. This could be anything from painful treatment to a negative experience with staff. Scheduling a dental appointment is enough to invoke the fear that the past event will repeat itself. For others, the anxiety may be triggered by the fear of the unknown, a loss of control, or even embarrassment. Some patients also experience anxiety specifically about the prospect of pain or needles.
What does dental anxiety feel like?
Common symptoms of dental anxiety include:
- Feeling flushed and sweaty
- Racing heart
- Feeling lightheaded and shaky
- Persistent worry
Techniques to help with dental anxiety:
1. Find a dental clinic that makes you feel comfortable:
Whether or not you suffer from dental anxiety, feeling comfortable at the dentist is important. A dental clinic should be an environment in which you feel welcome and comfortable enough to bring up any fears or reservations you may have about your treatment or simply being there.
2. Talk to your dentist:
Sometimes your dentist will be able to tell that you’re feeling anxious as soon as you walk through the door, but sometimes it’s not that obvious! There are plenty of steps your dentist can take to help make you feel at ease if they know how you’re feeling. If you are aware of something in particular about going to the dentist that makes you feel anxious, then, provided you feel comfortable doing so, this is something to have a chat about. For example, if it is the fear of not knowing what is happening that is causing you to feel panicked, then your dentist can help by taking things slower and giving you a step by step explanation of your treatment.
3. Relaxation and/or mindfulness techniques:
Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises can be useful during periods of distress. It is thought that by concentrating on breathing in a certain way and progressively tensing and relaxing certain muscles groups, your mind becomes focussed on that rather than the distressing thoughts. There are many books, apps, and audio tracks available that teach relaxation techniques.
This is a strategy that we see used quite frequently. Many people find the sounds of dental instruments distressing so bring along their headphones so that they can listen to music during their treatment. Music is also a good distraction to help take your mind off being at the dentist. If music isn’t for you, then other options include audiobooks or guided meditation tracks.
5. Bring a support person:
If the prospect of coming to the dentist on your own is too much, then feel free to bring someone in with you. Having a close friend or family member in the room with you can provide a calming presence and a hand to hold should you require it.
6. ‘Happy gas’ or sedation:
If despite trying the above recommendations, nothing seems to alleviate your dental anxiety, then there are other options. Some dental and specialist clinics offer the use of ‘happy gas’ (nitrous oxide) or treatment under sedation. Unfortunately, we do not offer this service at Highgate Hill Dental Centre, however, we are happy to discuss your options and refer you to somewhere that does.
Top tips from Dr Kathleen:
- Introduce kids to the dentist early so that they can become comfortable and familiar with the environment. The first few visits can be made fun and stress-free!
- Keeping up with regular check-ups helps to tackle dental issues while they are still small. This can help with breaking the association of every trip to the dentist resulting in extensive treatment.
- Ask your dentist to explain the procedure if you’re not sure. Having someone guide you through your treatment and explain everything step by step can minimize the fear of the unknown and allow you to ask any questions that arise.
If you would like to know more about dental anxiety and how to work through it, please don’t hesitate to pop in or give us a call. We understand that everyone’s dental experience is different and will do our very best to make you as comfortable as possible whether you’re just in for a check-up or some more involved treatment. Happy brushing and flossing and we’ll see you at your next check-up!