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8 tips to overcoming anxiety about going to the dentist

Posted November 17

Does the thought of going to the dentist make you feel a little queasy and anxious? Follow these 8 tips. (Deseret Photo)

Dentists are around to take care of your teeth. Although you might take your teeth for granted, they’re pretty important. You use them when you speak, smile and when you eat. It’s safe to say these are all pretty pleasant activities.

But for some reason many people still dislike going to the dentist and even fear it. According to Harvard Health Publications, between 13% and 24% of people all over the world are afraid to go.

Some people feel anxiety because of a bad experience they had in the past or because they start to anticipate discomfort and fear that everything could go wrong. However, modern medicine has advanced incredibly. Even the most dreaded procedures (we’re talking to you, root canals), have been tamed, so there’s really no rational reason to fear going.To keep your gums and teeth healthy, follow these 8 tips to overcome the anxiety of going to the dentist.

To keep your gums and teeth healthy, follow these 8 tips to overcome the anxiety of going to the dentist.

1. Be honest with your dentist

The first step to building trust, reducing your anxiety and improving the overall experience is to simply be honest. Tell your dentist and the staff how you feel and your concerns. They aren’t scary monsters — they’re humans, and probably have fears of their own. They’ll do the best they can to make you feel more comfortable.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Often, fear stems from the unknown. You may start to try and fill in the foggy future by creating narratives about what might happen. Usually, your mind spirals into worst-case scenarios, even if they are actually very unlikely to happen in real life.

Instead of letting your mind wander into the dark cavities of the dental world, ask your dental assistant and dentist to walk you through what they’ll do during the procedure before you even go in. Once you’re there, ask them to explain what they’re doing as they work, too.

You might even be surprised just how much you’ll learn and how happy your dentist is to tell you what all their equipment is for. Pretty soon the procedure will seem routine, maybe even a bit repetitive, and less like your worst nightmare.

3. Go slow

Sometimes people get caught up in the people pleasing side of dentistry. Your mouth is open for most of the time, it’s difficult to speak and someone else is standing over you instructing you how to adjust your face.

It certainly can feel awkward, and you might try to just get in and get out without making waves. However, it’s actually okay to interrupt your dentist or dental assistant. Don’t forget that you’re the patient, and they want to make sure everything goes smoothly, too.

If you need to slow things down, ask a question, spit, take a break, or anything else, speak up. Sometimes people don’t feel in control when they’re in the dental chair, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

4. Try deep breathing exercises

Being able to calm yourself and get back to an emotional middle-ground is essential for any type of stress. Practice slow, deep breathing exercises before you go to the dentist and when you get there to try and maintain your equilibrium. This will also help you stay grounded in the present.

You can also practice breathing exercises when you’re with your dentist. Focusing on your breath will also draw your attention to something other than what’s going on in your mouth.

5. Bring something soothing

Sometimes focusing on your breath can be a little difficult, so you might want to take along something else that you find soothing. Bring your own music to listen to while you’re waiting or take along something to fidget with like silly putty or a hair band. You can play with it while you’re getting your teeth cleaned to distract your mind.

6. Bring backup

Having a friend or family member with you – someone you can trust – is also beneficial. Just knowing someone is there to support you can bring some relief.

7. Ask your dentist for sedatives

If you really feel unable to handle your anxiety, ask your dentist to use sedatives. They may be able to use nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or local anesthetics. Actually, there are quite a few options to choose from.

Although not ideal, using these sedatives to cope with your fear is better than not ever going to the dentist at all.

8. Go to counseling

For some people, none of these tips are enough to get over their fear. If you’ve become so petrified of going to the dentist it prevents you from getting the treatment you need to stay healthy, you may have a phobia.

There’s a difference between being afraid of something and phobias, which interfere with your daily life and go far beyond anxiety. If you really can’t go to the dentist because of a phobia, it may be a good idea to seek counseling to try and master it.

Dentists don’t want to inspire fear; they want to help. If you let them, they can work with you to make sure those pearly whites are healthy for years to come. So, what are you waiting for?

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