Did you know that dental phobia—in other words, being so scared to go to the dentist that you delay dental care or even cancel appointments—is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V)? It is a very real phobia. If you have dental phobia, there is no reason to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or shy about admitting it to your dentist.
A good dentist will do everything in their power to help you overcome that phobia. However, they can’t help you if your phobia precludes you from making or keeping a dental appointment. Follow these tips for overcoming your fear of dental professionals and procedures!
1. Get Personal Recommendations
Chances are that if you have dental phobia, you probably don’t have a dental practice that you visit regularly. The first step to overcoming your phobia, therefore, is to find a dentist you can trust.
Start by asking friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors where they get their oral health taken care of. Given that 13% to 24% of people experience some level of dental phobia, you may know someone who has had it. They’ll be uniquely qualified to recommend a dental practice.
2. Read Some Reviews
Another smart step is to read reviews online. Don’t expect to find any dental practice that has 100% rave reviews. These reviews are often too good to be true and could even indicate unscrupulous acts like deleting bad reviews or paying for good ones.
Instead, look at the overall impression you get for each dental practice. Positive opinions from prior patients are often a good sign. So, too, are reviews that are generally positive, but also mention a downside or two.
3. Try to Identify What Makes You Fearful
When you think of going to the dentist, what specifically causes your heart rate to spike? If you can isolate the scariest aspects of dental care, you can work to alleviate your fears one by one.
Here are some of the most common fears associated with this experience. Do any of them resonate with you?
- The needles necessary for injecting numbing medicines
- Having a bad reaction to the anesthetic, or not being numbed sufficiently
- The sound of the dentist’s drill
- Experiencing pain during the treatment
- Feeling trapped in the dentist’s chair
- Crying or having a panic attack while at the dentist’s
- Fainting or passing out
- Being lectured or even yelled at because of your poor dental health
- Triggers that remind you of previous trauma or abuse
- Being told your teeth are in extremely bad shape and need extensive work
- The cost of whatever dental work you will need
Sometimes just identifying what frightens you the most can help you feel less afraid. You can also research specific coping tips for each of the fears that are holding you back from getting treatment.
4. Remember That You Are the Customer
A lot of people think of the dentist as a looming, all-powerful authority figure. That’s not the case.
For many folks, this is a holdover from bad dental experiences in the past, often when they were a child and therefore were not in control of what happened to them.
Maybe those dentists didn’t validate or respect your experience and feelings. They might have told you that there was no need to be scared, or that a particular aspect of treatment “couldn’t possibly hurt.”
It can be difficult for a grown-up to advocate for themselves in a healthcare setting. For a child, it can be nigh impossible.
Remember that you have every right to choose a dentist you like and trust. If you don’t get a good vibe at one practice, keep looking until you find one that feels right. Even (or especially) if a dental professional has a bad bedside manner, nothing is stopping you from walking out.
5. Experiment With Techniques to Reduce Fear
Americans place a high value on facing one’s fears. But that doesn’t have to mean that you grit your teeth and white-knuckle it. You can use tools to make it easier to face your fear.
Some of these tools include mindfulness meditation, relaxing breathing techniques, listening to soft and soothing music, fidgeting with a worry stone or other small talisman, or even distracting yourself with a good TV show, podcast, or book. All of these can help you handle that nerve-wracking stint in the waiting room as well as your time in the chair.
Some dentists even offer virtual reality to help you tune out what’s happening in your mouth!
In some cases, your dentist may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax to be taken before certain procedures. That can calm you enough to get in the door and get through the injections of anesthetic. Consider talking to your GP about your fear, as well, and seeing if they can prescribe something to take the edge off.
6. Explore Conscious Sedation
Also called sedation dentistry, conscious sedation can help anxious, frightened patients during treatments like fillings, extractions, crown replacements, and root canals. It’s also used in non-dental healthcare procedures. If you have ever had a colonoscopy or endoscopy, you have experienced conscious sedation.
During this type of sedation, you will remain mostly awake. You will probably remember parts of the experience. It’s not like general anesthesia or being “knocked out.”
You will, however, feel relaxed and drowsy. Any anxiety, nervousness, or other negative feelings are likely to diminish. Some people find themselves laughing or smiling for no real reason.
You Don’t Have to Be Scared to Go to the Dentist!
Many people are scared to go to the dentist—even more than you might imagine. Luckily, there are many ways to ease those fears and make dental treatment more pleasant. Once you find a compassionate, competent dentist, you are well on your way to a lifetime of improved dental health!
For more ways to keep your smile in great shape, check out this article, and keep reading through the rest of our site.