Dealing with dental anxiety

What keeps people from getting the preventive dental care they need for a healthy smile? Nearly 1 in 4 South Dakotans say they skipped a dental visit because they were afraid of going to the dentist.

Avoiding dental care often leads to poorer oral health, pain and more costly and complex dental procedures in the future. It can also affect your overall health in a variety of ways. That’s why it’s so important for people with dental anxiety to confront it. Here’s what causes dental anxiety and how you can overcome it.

What causes dental anxiety?

The cause(s) of dental anxiety vary from person to person, but common factors include a:

  • Past negative experience at the dentist, especially during childhood
  • Concern or shame about poor oral health or hygiene
  • Anxiety about paying for treatment
  • Fear of possible pain
  • Fear of needles
  • Fear of dental drills
  • Fear of gagging or choking 

How can your dentist and dental hygienist help?

If you have dental anxiety, you’re not alone. Dental professionals are experienced in dealing with anxiety and work to create a relaxing environment for patients.

It’s important to be open with your dentist about your concerns. By letting your dentist and dental hygienist know about your anxiety, you can discuss care options. Your dentist can offer suggestions to help you cope with your fear. Be specific about what makes you nervous, including any past experiences.

Let the staff know if you’ve experienced pain in a past visit – your dentist may suggest a larger dose of a local anesthetic to numb the area of your mouth where the procedure takes place. Your dentist may also suggest ways to relieve pain after your visit, including over-the-counter pain or prescription medication, ice or oral rinses.

Are you anxious about paying for treatment? Get a pre-treatment estimate for the cost and speak to your dentist about planning for payment.

What can you do to relieve anxiety?

In addition to the caring help from dental professionals, you can try these tips to relieve your anxiety:

  • Ask friends and family members if they recommend a dentist who puts them at ease.
  • Schedule your appointment at a time of the day when you’re under less stress, such as early morning.
  • Avoid sugary foods and caffeine before your appointment, as they can trigger nervousness. Eating a high-protein meal before a procedure can help stimulate the brain chemicals that reduce anxiety.
  • Bring a trusted friend or family member with you to the appointment, if visitors are allowed. 
  • Breathe deeply before your treatment to help slow your heart rate and relax your muscles. Try inhaling while slowly counting to five, hold for a second, then breath out slowly. Repeat five times.
  • Take advantage of distractions offered at your dental office, such as television or music. Or bring your own music and headphones.
  • Distract yourself with a stress ball or fidget toy.
  • Agree on a signal to let your dental professional know if you need a brief pause in treatment.

You’re not alone when it comes to fighting dental anxiety. Talk with your dental care team and they’ll use their experience to help make you more comfortable.

It’s important to schedule regular checkups and maintain great oral health care habits. When you avoid the dentist, you can develop serious oral health care issues that may need more complicated and costly treatment in the future.