Dentists do our best to be approachable, friendly and reassuring for our patients. But some people find themselves afraid of us – not afraid of the smiling person in the white coat, but afraid of what happens in the dentist’s chair.
Dental fear, also known as dental phobia, odontophobia, or dentophobia, is surprisingly common – and it can be a serious problem for many people. People with extreme dental fear have serious qualms and reservations about going to see a dentist – so much so that they go out of their way to avoid making a dental appointment.
It’s perfectly normal to have some anxiety about going to the dentist – after all, most of us do not enjoy having our teeth drilled. Some of us are afraid of the discomfort or inconvenience that can arise from routine dental treatments – or we’re afraid of unpleasant surprises (“What? I have another cavity?”).
But for some people, anxiety about going to the dentist gets to the point where it actually harms their oral health. For approximately 5-10% of American adults, dental phobia is so severe that they avoid dental care at all costs.
Sadly enough, if you are afraid of going to the dentist, the worst thing you can do for yourself is to avoid going to the dentist. When people with dental phobia stay away from the dentist for too long, they tend to develop more severe, costly and uncomfortable dental problems. For example, if you’re afraid to get your teeth checked every six months, and so you go six years without seeing a dentist, in the end, you might find yourself with severe dental problems that require extensive treatment to correct – which means you’ll be seeing a lot more of your dentist than you had imagined!
So, if you find yourself paralyzed with anxiety about going to the dentist, what can you do?
Here are a few tips:
- Talk to your dentist. It can be very difficult to do this, but it has to be done: tell your dentist about your struggles. If it’s too hard to talk directly, write it down in a letter and mail it to your dentist’s office. And you don’t have to say you’re “afraid” – just say, “I am struggling with some issues – I do not feel comfortable going to the dentist. I had some bad experiences earlier in life and I need to feel reassured about my dental care.”
- Try a different dentist. Is there something about your dentist’s demeanor that makes you uneasy? Are you just not able to feel comfortable at your dentist’s office? Perhaps you should shop around. Interview a few other dentists, or ask friends for recommendations. There are usually other options available if you just don’t feel like your current dentist is a good fit. Some dentists even offer special services to help patients who suffer from dental fear – if you can find a good, empathetic dentist who understands your feelings, you might be surprised at how quickly your fears go away.
- Breathe deeply. If you feel persistently anxious and uncomfortable while at your dentist’s office, your dentist can recommend some relaxations techniques that can help. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale out through your mouth.
- Get informed. Sometimes people are most fearful about the things that are unfamiliar to them – so if you have anxiety about a certain dental procedure, ask your dentist to show you exactly what needs to be done. This will help you feel more in control of your dental care and not feel like things are just being done to you – it’s important to feel empowered about your health care, and dental care is no different.
- Find help online. The Internet makes it possible for people who are struggling with almost any problem to find other people with similar challenges – and dental phobias are no exception. Do a Google search for “dental fear support group” and see what you can find – you can learn a lot just from reading other people’s ideas and helpful suggestions. You are not alone in your fear of going to the dentist. Many other people have been in your situation and have gone on to conquer the anxiety.
Don’t let fear and anxiety keep you from getting the oral health care that you need. Dental phobia is a real problem – but it can be helped.