Ten Tips to help ease your dental anxiety (compliments of the ADA):
Regular dental visits are essential for maintaining good oral health. Yet, an estimated 35 million adults experience sufficient anxiety at the thought of an upcoming dental visit that they needlessly worry about, postpone, or avoid seeing their dentist.
If, like most people, you experience some degree of anxiety when it comes time to see your dentist, the following suggestions can help you to relax before and during dental treatment. What's important is to recognize your anxiety, accept it as a common reaction to an uncertain situation, and learn to master it. These recommendations will help you to accept dental visits comfortably and, in turn, boost both your confidence and oral health.
Start by sharing your feelings with us. Let us know that you are fearful, tense, or anxious so that we can tailor their treatment and their pace to your needs. Often, a pain reliever can be given if it's pain you fear. By bringing your fears out into the open, you will gain control of them, relax, and receive more effective, pain-free treatment.
Set aside a stress-free time for your visit with us - a time when you won't be rushed, physically strained, or troubled by other concerns. You may find an early morning appointment less stressful than rushing to see the dentist directly from work.
Keep in mind that when you see your dentist on a regular basis, many dental visits rarely involve more than a professional cleaning, examination, and consultation. You can therefore use this opportunity to get acquainted with the dental staff. Being friendly and sociable helps establish trust and warmth, both of which can do wonders in allaying your fears and in reducing tension. You might also have a close friend or family member (one who has a positive attitude toward dental care) accompany you to your appointment if it makes you feel more at ease.
Try to identify your specific fears and concerns. Some people feel anxiety because they had or heard about a negative dental experience during childhood. Others fear the sound of the drill, the possibility of pain, or their feeling a lack of control during any given procedure. While these fears are very understandable, it is important to recognize that they often are not realistic given the modern, pain-free techniques now used in dentistry. Discuss your feelings with a supportive friend or family member. Pinpointing the cause of your anxiety will help you understand and control it better.
Get a good night's sleep the day before and eat a light breakfast the day of your appointment. To allow unconstrained movement, wear loose, comfortable clothes. Especially avoid wearing constricting necklines, such as tight collars.
Schedule short dental appointments by having different procedures performed on different days, if possible. Also arrange to break from lengthy procedures now and then. (This may not always be possible, however, depending on the procedure.) If you are feeling any discomfort during treatment, you can motion the dentist to stop through a prearranged signal--by raising your hand, blinking sharply, or nodding, for example.
Use visualization to feel more comfortable and relaxed both before and during a dental visit. For instance, before your visit you might imagine yourself sitting calmly and confidently in the dental chair while the dentist examines your mouth and soothingly talks to you. You can also focus on a relaxing scene from a favorite vacation spot or activity and hold it before your "mind's eye" during treatment.
During the dental visit, practice distraction and relaxation techniques to take your mind off of treatment and to reduce tension. You might focus, for instance, on such pleasant distractions as soft music or a colorful poster. Or you can practice deep, slow, rhythmic breathing, counting each breath as you go along. Another common relaxation technique involves systematically tightening and then relaxing the major muscle groups in your legs, hands, arms, shoulders and neck.
Ask the dentist or hygienist to explain each step of the dental examination or procedure. The more you know about the reasons for a certain procedure and what will be done during it, the more confident and relaxed you'll be. Also, knowledge helps you to gain control over an unfamiliar situation and enables you to choose comfortably between the treatment options your dentist might recommend.
Once the dental visit is over, praise yourself for a job well done! You might also treat yourself to a special reward for overcoming your dental anxiety. And remember, the dentist-patient relationship is just that--a relationship mutually involving you and your dentist. Overcome the habit of thinking of yourself as the passive recipient of treatment. Your dentist will welcome your taking an active role in your dental care. You'll be glad you did, too, and you'll come away smiling.