Regular dental visits are important for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, yet dental anxiety, which is an unease about dental appointments, keeps some people from going to the dentist. Dental anxiety, or dental fear, is estimated to affect approximately 36% of the population, with a further 12% suffering from extreme dental fear. Trusted Source .
Rather than postpone visits, here’s a look at ways to cope with dental anxiety, as well as a few symptoms and causes for it.
Dental anxiety does affect people of all ages. Here are several coping mechanisms to help ease your fears and get you back in the dental chair.
Don’t hesitate to communicate your concerns to your dentist. They can take steps to make the process easier. They can explain each step from start to finish, so you know what to expect. They can also recommend techniques to help you relax and feel more comfortable at the appointment.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you understand the procedure, you may feel less anxiety.
Deep breathing exercises can relax your mind and help you feel calmer. These exercises can reduce stress during dental appointments.
Close your eyes and slowly inhale through your nose. Hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat this several times.
Anxiety can worsen while sitting in the waiting room or once you climb into the dental chair. In this situation, meditation is a simple practice to reduce stress and promote calmness.
It involves a state of heightened awareness, focus, and muscle relaxation that you can achieve anywhere — even at your dentist office.
Once you’re seated, close your eyes or fix your eyes on an object, and then allow your body to completely relax. Pay attention to different parts of your body and make a conscious effort to release tension, relaxing your entire body starting with your head down to your feet.
You can meditate before and during your appointment to remain calm and focused.
Another technique involves visualizing happy thoughts while sitting in the dentist chair. Go to your “happy place” and think about funny or positive past memories. Being nostalgic can help you feel happier, which can calm and relax your mind.
Hypnotherapy involves quieting the conscious mind and creating a state of calmness. This guided relaxation practice helps you achieve a trance state, at which point a hypnotherapist uses the power of suggestion to curb your anxiety. It’s important to note that a hypnotherapist cannot make you do anything that you yourself would not want to do.
Having a distraction in the dental office can also relieve anxiety. Talk with your dentist beforehand. See if you can watch TV or a movie during your appointment, or perhaps wear headphones and listen to music.
The support of a relative or friend might calm your mind. Ask your dentist if someone may accompany you in the exam room. Even if you can’t talk to this person during your appointment, their presence can help you feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed.
This is a type of medication used to relieve pain. You can find these drugs over-the-counter, but they’re also used during dental appointments to provide pain relief and reduce moderate anxiety.
Dentists typically use nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, which is a colorless and odorless gas you breathe in before or during your procedure. Check with your dental insurance provider to see if they offer coverage for nitrous oxide. Some plans may not cover this benefit.
For moderate anxiety, some dentists may prescribe a short-acting anti-anxiety medication to help lessen anxiety before an appointment. You’ll take the medication at least one hour before your visit.
An option for moderate to severe anxiety is conscious sedation. This involves taking an oral sedative a few hours before your dental appointment. This isn’t general anesthesia, so you won’t be asleep during the appointment. You will remain conscience and responsive, but in a very relaxed state.
Conscious sedation (“Intravenous”)
A more advanced technique enabling certain patients to achieve a more exacting and controlled level of relaxation and sedation for certain procedures requiring the patient remain still while the treatment is performed. IV sedation requires the dentist to have extensive training and more comprehensive monitoring of a patient during the procedure.
This involves being fully asleep or unconscious during a dental procedure, and it’s an option for severe dental anxiety.
Keep in mind that dental anesthesia is sometimes administered in a hospital setting by an anesthesiologist. Some dental offices can provide general anesthesia, but only when a dentist has received specialized training and the practice environment is very similar to the hospital OR setting.
If you have dental insurance, check with your provider to see if they offer coverage for general anesthesia. Some plans may not cover this benefit.
How do you know if you have dental anxiety? Some people experience some level of uneasiness before a dental appointment, yet the anxiety doesn’t stop them from keeping appointments.
People living with dental anxiety, on the other hand, can experience distressing symptoms before appointments. For example:
If you’re anxious about sitting in a dentist’s chair, you might avoid appointments, or allow too much time between scheduled appointments. This can lead to oral health issues.
During regular dental appointments, a dentist can detect cavities and other oral health concerns early. Lack of professional cleanings raises the risk for gum disease and other issues like bleeding gums, loose teeth, and bad breath.