If a person experiences dental phobia, they should not feel alone, as this is a common form of anxiety. In fact, according to experts, 9-15 percent of Americans avoid seeing an oral clinician due to anxiety about oral procedures. This anxiety may be due to a bad experience, embarrassment, fear of potential pain involved, or a sense of a lack of control in the dentist's chair. Fortunately, there are several techniques to alleviate this anxiety. People can bring a calming distraction to take their minds off of the noise and procedure. Breathing and relaxation techniques will help a patient to reduce the sometimes overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety. Also, people should develop trusting relationships with their oral health clinicians by explaining their fears. This way, dentists can reassure patients and discuss ways to effectively communicate any issues that may arise.
Bring a Calming Distraction
Patients can bring something with them to distract them from fearful thoughts or procedures involved in general dentistry or surgery. For example, a person may read a book or a magazine, or work on a crossword puzzle or knitting project in the waiting room.
A common distraction is music. This technique is very effective for patients with anxiety that's mostly triggered by the sound of the tools used during surgery or general check-ups. The music can help to drown out the whirring sound of a drill, for instance. Clinicians may allow individuals to bring headphones and listen to music throughout the appointment to keep them calm. Some will even provide noise canceling headphones, so patients should not hesitate to ask for them. Steven Goldberg, DDS, has one suggestion for his patients regarding this technique: bring a new CD or music that is different. Music that is too familiar can easily go unnoticed, making it harder to pay attention to the distraction.
Use Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Many times, the physical symptoms of anxiety-breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, and tense muscles-can feel more overwhelming than the anxiety itself.
This is why a person should practice deep breathing techniques, counting, and focusing on relaxing the muscles during an appointment. Many psychologists suggest focusing on reducing the symptoms of anxiety first, as this method can inadvertently train the mind to relax and not respond to those symptoms. Also, many patients cite a sense of helplessness during general dentistry procedures or oral surgeries as the underlying cause of their anxiety, so relaxation techniques may help patients to feel a sense of control over their bodies.
Develop a Trusting Relationship with the Dentist
A person who is fearful of oral procedures should discuss their feelings and issues beforehand with their oral clinician. Many practitioners of general dentistry are familiar and understanding of this fear and will make an effort to be as accommodating as possible to reduce apprehension.
An individual can ask an oral clinician to explain what to expect and what tools will be involved to better prepare themselves for the checkup or procedure. They can also gain more control of the situation by establishing a system with their oral clinician, in which they both agree on a signal that will let the clinician know to stop whenever the patient is overwhelmed or dreams too much pain.