Despite the generous dose of laughing gas your dentist may administer during your next appointment, dental anxiety and phobia is no laughing matter. If you’ve ever had anxiety or intense fear about paying your dentist a visit, you’re not alone. In fact, 9% to 20% of Americans (30 to 45 million people) will experience dental anxiety or phobia sometime in their lifetime, resulting in missed or delayed dental care. In other words, dental anxiety and phobia is very real and very common.
Dental anxiety and dental phobia are not the same thing, although they do share a common set of symptoms. The former is elevated and usually unfounded uneasiness about visiting the dentist or having your mouth examined. The latter is more extreme and can result in trouble sleeping, panic attacks or becoming physically ill. Why do some people have dental anxiety or phobia? What causes it? There are three common reasons: fear of pain, fear of losing control and fear of embarrassment.
While dental anxiety and phobia can’t always be cured, there are a number of steps you can take to help you manage the symptoms and make your next trip the dentist a little less stressful and a lot more successful. After all, regular dental care is a really important part of not only your dental health but for your overall health as well. If you don’t already have dental insurance, make sure you sign up for Spirit Dental before a cavity strikes.
This may seem counterintuitive, but going under may be the best way to reduce your anxiety during your next dental appointment. This is often referred to as “sleep dentistry,” although that’s a bit of a misnomer since you won’t actually be asleep during the visit. It’s different than general anesthesia, which will totally knock you out. Instead, you’ll be given medication to put you into a deep state of relaxation. You’ll be awake and can still respond to commands, but you probably won’t remember the experience the next day.
Your dentist can adjust your level of sedation depending on the type of work you’re having done or your comfort level. Mild sedation will just put you into a relaxed state; moderate sedation may cause you to slur your words and forget most of what’s happening; deep sedation will make you somewhat unconscious. You may still need local anesthesia to numb the area of your mouth that the dentist will be working on.
A word of warning, however: sedation dentistry isn’t covered by all dental insurance plans and can cost a pretty penny. In most cases, it can run you up to $200/hour for a mild sedation and $500/hour for deep sedation. Insurance companies like Spirit Dental will look at sedation dentistry on a case by case basis. For example, if you have a medical diagnosis of extreme dental phobia or a medical condition that makes sedation necessary for proper dental care.
If this is a method you are interested in or considering, be sure to see a dentist with sedation experience.
4.) Listen to Music or Bring a Distraction
The dentist chair isn’t exactly comfortable, and the ceiling probably isn’t really all that interesting. That means that all you have to focus on before and during your appointment is the intensity of the lights above you, the sound of the drill or metal tools or the smell of antiseptics. All in all, not a very relaxing sensation or enjoyable experience.
Listening to some tunes (or podcast or audiobook) or bringing some handheld games can help take your mind off your surroundings or situation. Let your mind wander — the less you thinking about what’s going on in the moment, the better.
3.) Avoid Caffeine and Sugary Foods
It’ll not only help you keep your teeth sparkly white and free of plaque, but it may also help you feel more relaxed and less anxious before and during your appointment. It’s no secret that caffeine and sugar make you more jittery, bumping up your heart rate. Try eating protein and fiber before your appointment. Protein takes longer to digest than sugar or carbs, and fiber helps regulate your blood sugar levels. In other words, it’ll help you control your blood sugar and blood pressure. And that can have a more calming affect on the body.
2.) Remember to Breathe
This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s actually very common to hold your breath during stressful situations. Taking deep, measured breaths and focusing on your breathing is a critical part of remaining calm. Consider additional or alternative relaxation techniques as well: aromatherapy or essential oils, a safety blanket, or a friend to hold your hand. Whatever works for you.
1.) Talk to Your Dentist
For those with dental anxiety or phobia, consider speaking to your dentist or health care provider if you have not done so already. They’ll be your best partner in finding solutions that work for you and in adapting treatment to suit you. Ask questions. Share your fears. Decide on a signal or agree to regular breaks during an appointment. Open communication with your health care providers will be the most effective way to help you cope with your anxiety or phobia. It’s time to make your health all about you.