Dental phobia is a very common state and can have basis either in a real or imagined experience. It is typically classified into three different degrees, anxiety, fear, and phobia. Below is a brief definition of each to gain better understanding of the psychological profile of each classification:
Anxiety: This is a state that arises primarily out of the fear of the unknown. Most people experience dental anxiety to some degree; at some point even the most stalwart of patients will have a new procedure that may produce trepidation related to the dentist.
Fear: A reaction to a known experience, provoking the “flight or fight” response to cope with the threatening stimulus. This is very common if you have had a bad experience with a dentist.
Phobia: The strongest of the three negative reactions, this is fear magnified to the tenth power; where you are so frightened that you decide there is no way you can cope with going to the dentist. Physical reactions may be as extreme as becoming physically sick at even the thought of the dentist. If you have a dental phobia, you are likely to avoid the dentist at all costs until the problem becomes so bad you are in extreme pain or the situation becomes life threatening.
These are not rigid guidelines; in fact, anxiety can feet just a frightening as a phobia! Also, some people develop dental phobias who have never even been to the dentist before due to vicarious learning (whether from talking to people who have had a bad experience or seeing something traumatic on television).
So what are some strategies and approaches that you can employ to calm your nerves at the dentist office?
Talk to your dentist before the procedure. Ask for an explanation of what is going to happen. Establish rapport with your dentist, let them know that you are anxious, tell them if you are afraid that the procedure will be painful. An understanding dentist will assure you that they can put you in a state where you won’t feel pain. There is a teaching technique that can be very helpful, it is a variation of “Tell, Show, Do”, adding “Ask” to the formula:
Tell: The dentist tells the patient what they would like to do.
Show: They demonstrate what is involved; and show the equipment.
Ask: They ask the patient if they have any questions, and if they may begin
Do: They perform the procedure.
If your selected dentist practices anxiety control dentistry, he/she may be familiar with “Tell, Show, Ask, Do”. If not, don’t hesitate to follow the steps with the dentist. If he/she isn’t amenable, consider looking for a different dentist!
Develop a communication method with your dentist that enables them to know when you want them to stop (a finger squeeze, a sound, etc.). Your dentist should stop immediately, and ask you if it is ok to continue before proceeding.
Structured breaks can also be effective to help alleviate dental anxiety; taking the procedure step by step works well if you experience feelings of being overwhelmed by a lengthy treatment.
Look for a pleasing environment: visual stimuli, muted lighting, and even aromatherapy (the sense of smell is very powerful, removing the clinical odor associated with a dentist office and replacing it with something subtle and pleasant can be a very effective strategy!).
A trip to the dentist office in the 21st century has no need to be painful or unpleasant! Advances in dentistry as well as pain management tactics have made even complicated procedures very tolerable; and increased awareness calms anxiety, making good oral health possible for everyone.
Contact us today to see what we can do for your dental anxiety.