Dental anxiety can look different from person to person. Some of the symptoms are more obvious than others too. For instance, someone that is experiencing noticeable signs of distress such as feeling panicked, or crying will likely understand that they are suffering from dental anxiety. Additionally, symptoms such as sweating, a racing heartbeat beat, and even low blood pressure are also common.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that we humans are clever things and anxiety can sometimes show itself in a much more subtle way. For example, if you find yourself often missing appointments you may be using avoidance of anxiety that a visit will cause to cope. Also, if you use aggression or humor when at the dentist to cover the fact you feel scared, this can be a sign that there is an underlying issue of anxiety to deal with.
What causes dental anxiety?
There are many causes for dental anxiety, and the underlying issue will often depend on the person and their experiences. For example, a person that struggles with an anxiety disorder in the day to day life like GAD or OCD is likely to feel more stress when visiting the dentist.
However, there are also some more specific reasons why dental anxiety may be presenting a problem for you.
The first of these is the anticipated pain and discomfort of the exam or treatment that you may need. Indeed, we will talk about how modern dental technology has greatly reduced the pain associated with dental work in more depth later. But for now, it is worth noting that the anticipation of pain is often a great deal worse than the experience, especially when there are effective medications that can be used to reduce any discomfort.
Bad experience in the past
One of the most common causes of dental anxiety is a less than positive experience in the past. This can often include pain, but may also involve service issues such as a poor chairside manner by the dentist, or something as simple as a mix-up overpayments.
You may even find yourself feeling terrified of the dentist because you remember the reaction that your parents or other family members had when sitting in the chair.
Of course, being able to identify any issue that is holding you back from accessing treatment is essential here. Then you can begin to address it, something that in this case is best done by finding a dentist that is the right fit for you and that will work with you to help you overcome your fears.
Shame is a very powerful emotion and it can most definitely interfere with us getting the dental treatment we need. In particular, two types of shame may be a problem here. The first is embarrassment about the current state of our teeth, something that is quite common if we have not been for a check-up for a while, or have an issue like a chip or cavity that we have been ignoring.
The second type of anxiety that may show up is shame about being anxious. Of course, this can become a vicious circle where we try and repress our feelings and then make them worse because of this.
The thing to remember here is that dentists are professional and as such, they have seen all standards of dental health and experienced all manner of nervous patients, so there is genuinely nothing to worry about.
Loss of control
We all like to feel in control of our own experience, and along with other medical visits, sitting in the dentist’s chair can make us feel vulnerable and helpless. Something that can in turn create a great deal of anxiety.
Of course, the thing to remember here is that we never really lose autonomy as we sit down in the dentist’s chair. Indeed, we can ask our dentist to stop at any time with a pre-agreed hand movement.
How dental anxiety or phobia can affect your oral health
The big problem with dental anxiety is not only that it is an unpleasant experience, but it can stop you from accessing essential oral care. Indeed, it can be a vicious circle because your anxiety stops you from attending dental appointments, which means you don’t get the care you need to keep your mouth, teeth, and gums healthy.
This then means you are much more vulnerable to dental and periodontal disease, which with the proper care could have been prevented. Unfortunately, dental and periodontal diseases that go unchecked usually progress to become far more serious and will need longer, and more invasive treatments to fix. Something that can further reinforce dental anxiety and mean you begin the process all over again!
Remember – It’s good to talk with your dentist
Happily, there is no need to let your oral health get to this stage, as there are many constructive ways to deal with dental anxiety. One of the most important of these is to embrace clear communication with your dental professional.
Indeed, before we move on to some specific, practical tactics for dealing with dental anxiety, it’s important to emphasize that good communication can help you feel much more in control of the whole process, something that has the potential to significantly lower your anxiety.
Additionally, by ensuring the communication between you and your dental professional is clear, you can get all the important information you need about your oral health, and any potential treatments you may need you indeed go. This means you will then be in the perfect position to decide on how to proceed – ensuring you always stay in control and in the driving seat of your treatment process.
Remember – Dentistry has come on leaps and bounds
While issues of pain and bad experiences are often cited as reasons to avoid the dentist, it may be possible that we aren’t quite seeing things clearly.
After all, modern dentistry has come on leaps and bounds since the old days. What that means is a combination of effective pain relief and fast, agile, and high-tech tools that can help make your dental appointment much more comfortable and less intimidating than the image you have built up in your mind.
Practical tactics for staying calm when you visit the dentist
In addition to the reassurances above, there are some small-scale practical actions you can take to stay calmer when visiting the dentist. Indeed, by using one or more of the tactics below you can help your dental appointment be a great deal less stressful and ensure you get the treatment you need.
- Pick the right appointment time. Life is busy, and sometimes it can feel easier to squeeze a dental appointment into a lunch break, or before work. However, rushing, and having other responsibilities to go on with after your appointment can add stress. Indeed, it can even make you feel as if you can’t feel your fear, because you have to be back to normal right away.
Instead, it is a much more sensible idea to book a dental appointment for a time where you know you can arrive calmly and have some time to yourself before anyone places any demand on you after it’s over. Happily, many dentists now offer evening, and weekend appointments that fit this tactic perfectly.
- Communicate with your dentist. Yes I know we have talked about this a little above, but it bears repeating. Indeed, you will find that your dentist and their staff can do a lot for you if you are struggling with anxiety and that they will be only too happy to tailor the treatment to your needs.
Some people even like to agree to a hand single between them and their dentist that acts as a sign that they need to stop for a moment. Again this is something that can help you feel far more in control of the experience.
- Use breathing and meditation techniques. You may think that meditation is all about sitting crossed legs in a field and chanting, but this isn’t the case. Indeed, a lot of meditations involve a mindful focus on the breath, which can produce two benefits relevant to this situation.
The first is that by slowing the breath you calm the sympathetic nervous system, and prevent any increase in anxiety. Secondly, by focusing on your breath you will have something else to concentrate on other than the procedure, this can be very useful in reducing the intensity of the experience.
- Crank up your favorite playlist. Many of us find the sound of the dental drill puts us on edge. However, if we can’t hear it because we are listening to our favorite tunes it can make things a great deal easier.
You may also wish to try an audiobook, something absorbing that you can focus on, you can even combine this with the strategy above and do a guided body meditation which can help take you away from the area of treatment.
Dental anxiety is a real problem for many people, but it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Indeed, a good dentist will be trained in how to deal with anxious patients, and be empathetic to their mental as well as physical wellbeing.
There is also a range of strategies that you can use to help reduce the feeling of anxiety both before your appointment and while you are in the chair. This is great news because allowing anxiety to stop you from accessing treatments and checkups can negatively and seriously impact your dental health over the long term.