Maintaining proper oral health can affect a patient’s life in many ways – especially when it comes to their smile. Problems with teeth can prevent people from feeling comfortable in social situations and can also make eating and chewing painful. Rather than visiting the dentist regularly, many people with dental anxiety will wait until it is too late and their pain has become unbearable.
As a professor of oral health, Lisa Heaton explains that dental fear is often a specific fear, like anxiety over drills or needles.
“Somebody might sit down in the dental chair and feel pretty OK, but when they see the needle on the tray in front of them… they become very fearful and their heart starts to race,” Heaton says.
“I’ve seen it happen many times. The fear is so extreme that it gets in the way of people’s health,” says Dr. Vick Handa. “I have had patients who have been afraid of going to the dentist since childhood. It’s important to tell those patients that there are ways to overcome their apprehensions.”
For example, instead of hiding them, he suggests communicating your fears and anxiety. In turn, Dr. Handa and his staff have found ways to put patients at ease in ways they may not have experienced at other practices.
“Even before you set an appointment, it’s best to be vocal about your apprehensions, fears, and anxiety. That way, you’re giving the dentist a way to assess your situation and tailor an action plan suited to your needs,” says Dr. Vick Handa.
Another way to overcome your fear is to bring a companion along with you during appointments. Having someone with you can offer an extra layer of support and assurance. If possible, see if your companion can keep you company even during a procedure.
Anxious patients can also choose to practice relaxation techniques. Through controlled breathing, which involves taking a big breath and letting it out very slowly, patient’s can become more relaxed and less fearful of what’s happening during the procedure. Some other ways to take your mind off the procedure are listening to music, holding on to an object or counting to yourself. To ease his patients’ anxiety, Dr. Handa implements techniques of diversional therapy by placing TVs in the ceiling for patients to watch movies to keep their minds off the procedure.
Keep in mind, dental procedures have become far more advanced compared to a few years back. In fact, with numbing agents, there should be as minimal pain as possible—from the administration of anesthesia to surgery.
More so, dentists recognize that people have apprehensions about going to them, so they strive to provide a reassuring and comfortable environment for patients.
“Dental fear — and especially dental phobia — is not one of those things that goes away overnight, but it’s something that’s built on a trusting relationship with the dentist,” Lisa Heaton says.
“Sometimes it takes a few attempts to find a dentist that you really click with, but I encourage people to talk to as many dentists as they need until they find one they really feel comfortable with.”