I’m scared of the dentist what can I do
It is estimated that approximately 75% of the population are scared of the dentist and have some degree of dental anxiety with approximately 10% of the population of avoiding seeing a dentist because of that anxiety. The problem becomes self compounding, the more one does not go to the dentist for fear of what will happen the more likely it is that more work will need to be done when one does eventually go.
It really is important to see a dental professional on a regular basis to ensure that dental work is kept to a minimum, which everybody wants.
We have written this blog post to help you if you are scared of the dentist or have some level of anxiety, we hope you find what follows useful.
Definition of anxiety
Why are people scared of the dentist?
Anxiety is defined as: ” a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome”, According to this definition it can be clearly seen how an anxiety of the dentist can come about, you may be worried about what will happen what the outcome will be.
This anxiety can manifest in a few ways and may include some of the following:
- Dry mouth.
- A feeling of nausea.
- An inability to stay calm and still.
- Feelings of fearfulness and and ease.
- A racing heart.
- Shortness of breath.
Anxiety about going to the dentist is often concerned with what will happen when you are there, this is a specific anxiety about the uncertain outcome at the dentist and should not be confused with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) where one feels anxious about almost everything for no real apparent reason.
Definition of phobia
A phobia is defined as: ” an overwhelming and debilitating fear of a place, situation or feeling”. The emphasis on phobia is the fact that it is debilitating, a phobia will prevent someone from doing that thing completely. A phobia can also be described as: “…an irrational fear”. It is quite rational to be anxious about any uncertain outcome at the dentist but if that anxiety becomes overwhelming it can then become debilitating and become irrational. This is when an anxiety becomes a phobia.
Scared of the dentist but need to go?
Here are some suggestions on what you can do.
When you first start thinking you need to come to the dentist, or that you need some form of treatment it can often seem like a huge mountain to climb. But we want to assure you that the journey of 1000 steps always starts with a first step. And it’s just like the joke:
“How do you eat an elephant?”
Answer… one bite at a time.
Overcoming dental fear is the same… overcome it one small step or bite at a time, take things slowly and easily and in simple small steps.
We often find that overcoming dental fear is about realising that you have a choice.
Think about it now, you weren’t born with a fear of the dentist, babies are a blank canvass and have no such irrational fears. However, as we get older we have certain experiences that shape our views, so think about it now… what experience led you to believe you were afraid of the dentist?
When you come to see us we will ask you what was the trigger that taught you this behaviour, this will then help us to help you overcome this irrational fear.
The problem is that we have these experiences once and they then shape our thought patterns by teaching us new behaviours i.e. to fear the dentist, this is a key point to understand, your fear is a learnt behaviour – and if it can be learnt, a new way of thinking can also be learnt.
Top Tips for relaxing at the dentist
- Book an appointment in the morning, this will ensure you can relax for the rest of the day as your appointment will be over.
- For regular appointments, make sure you have a good breakfast. This will set you up for the day and ensure your energy levels remain high.
- Lay off the alcohol! Not only does it dehydrate you but it can also make you worry.
- Bring a friend. Decide before hand on what you are going to talk about, make it subjects that relax you and keep you calm. Perhaps discuss a recent holiday, or where you are going next time.
- Talk openly to us. We will NOT judge you or tell you off for not coming to see us… honestly
- Agree a stop signal with us, this will ensure that YOU are in control
Specific dental anxieties
Scared of the dentist drill
The key to overcoming fear of the dentist drill is to learn the art of distraction. All dental treatments should be undertaken with adequate anaesthetic meaning you should only feel light pressure and vibration. Anxiety about the dentist drill comes from an association which has been created between the drill and pain.
Wearing headphones and listening to your favourite music can help drown out the sound of the drill. A couple of words of warning though:
- Wear headphones that don’t popout easily so that your dentist can work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Choose music which has a faster beat with fewer gaps between the tracks.
- If possible don’t wear headphones at all, most dentists will prefer to have an open channel of communication to you to offer help and advice. Your dentist can’t do this if you can’t hear them.
Scared of dentist pictures
Some people find they are scared of the pictures around dental practices or scared of the photographs they may see in books at the dentist. The easiest way to overcome this fear is to speak to your dentist beforehand, let them know you are anxious and scared of the dentist pictures, this gives both yourself and the dental practice time to prepare.
Most dental practices however don’t have gruesome pictures of dental procedures on the walls, dentists want to help you relax and will ensure images around the practice facilitate this.
Scared of gagging at the dentist
Gagging is one of the biggest fears people have of the dentist, sometimes this reflex is physiological, sometimes it is psychological. The feeling of panic as one gags can be quite overwhelming.
Here are our top tips to overcome that gag reflex:
- Always breathe through your nose, this way you know you can always catch your breath.
- Remember to breathe. Whilst breathing through your nose, gently breathe in… Wait… breathe out… Wait… breathing in and repeat. This gentle breathing can really help.
- If you have a modern FitBit activity tracker these can sometimes be set on ‘relax’ mode, this gives you a guided breathing pattern which is tailored to your heart rate.
- Over the counter throat sprays with a numbing action, the ones typically used to help with throat coughs may help.
- Talk to your dentist, let them know you have a gag reflex and they can help you relax.
Modern dentistry users some of the best equipment available, needles are now so sharp you almost certainly will have no pain during any injections, anaesthetics work so well that numbing is complete and gone are the days of forcing a patient to breathe in gas through a mask.
Dentistry today is designed to be calm and relaxed, offering you a range of treatments and alternatives truly able to help.
One of those alternatives is dental sedation, sedation can help you gently drift off into your mind in a calm and relaxed world, allowing the dentist to treat your dental problem with ease.
A graduate of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Dental school, Dr Padayachy has been a dentist at the award winning Senova Dental Studios in Watford since 1998 focusing on comprehensive restorative and cosmetic dentistry.
Jay has previously been the president of The London Dental Fellowship.
He has been a member of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry since its inception and serves on the Credentialing committee. Jay has lectured widely on all aspects of cosmetic dentistry, dental photography and comprehensive care.