Dental anxiety can be experienced in varying degrees of severity, from a feeling of uneasiness at having to visit a dentist to a full-blown, highly prohibitive phobia. Whilst it’s common for people to be a little wary of dental work (with images of drills and other painful looking implements imbedded in our cultural consciousness) it can be seriously detrimental to your oral hygiene and, by extension, your overall health to neglect scheduling regular check ups.
Indeed, in severe cases a sufferer might avoid going to seek a dentist’s services, even when experiencing severe pain. Obviously, as well as the sheer discomfort of the situation, this also puts you at a much higher risk of suffering from gum disease, early tooth loss or any number of other potentially serious problems as time goes by.
There are a variety of reasons you might feel anxious about getting dental treatment. Pain is a common concern, with many people, especially those under 24, worried that the treatment they require will hurt. Whilst, some procedures can be uncomfortable, it’s worth noting that dentistry is continually advancing and many treatments that may have hurt in the past can now be done without the patient noticing any unpleasant sensations.
Lack of control is another recurring theme that crops up amongst peoples’ reasons for wishing to avoid getting in the chair. (As we’ll see down the article, there are ways around this, as receiving dental treatment by no means needs to be a completely passive experience.) The intimacy involved can also be a reason for people to feel uneasy or embarrassed. Likewise, negative past experiences are often put forward as reason people would rather stay away from the dentist.
The good news is, whatever source your discomfort springs from, there are ways you can go about overcoming it.
The first step is to get talking about your concerns. You may find it extremely helpful to talk to friends and family members. If they have had similar experiences they may be able to point you towards helpful resources they’ve used themselves. Though they may not be your first port of call, one of the places you’re most likely to find useful advice is actually from a dentist.
Many dentists actually specialise in treating people who suffer from dental anxiety. Looking online for such a practice and going in to talk about your problems can help push things forward. If your phobia prevents you from being able to take these initial steps, then you may have to look to your GP for help instead. They may be able to put you forward to a professional specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy; a technique that can be used to change the way you think about certain aspects of life that has been successfully used to treat a wide range of conditions from insomnia to eating disorders.
If you are able to get help from your dentist, there are a number of ways they may be able to go about making you feel more comfortable. For instance, having discussed things with you, they may be able to ease you towards a state where you’d feel able to undergo treatment by taking things slowly, perhaps allowing you to first feel at ease in the surroundings of the practice (even something as simple as sitting in the chair) before making any attempt to progress things any further. This could be especially effective if your anxiety is based on a bad experience during childhood and has prevented you from visiting a dentist for many years. In this time dentistry may have made considerable advances and your idea of what goes on in a practice could be exaggerations based on an outdated way of doing things. Knowing about the latest technology may make you feel far less uneasy about getting work done.
Even if it does come to the stage where you’re able to start having a basic check up, having had an open talk with your dentist you could still come to an agreement whereby you can retain a certain level of control over proceedings by taking things at your own pace and requesting they stop if things are going too fast. Many people devise signals they can use to communicate with their dentists, allowing them to have their say throughout.
Another popular way to boost your confidence is simply to bring a friend along for morale support. Many sufferers of dental anxiety fare a lot better when they are not alone and most dentists will not mind if you wish to be accompanied. Of course, if the cause of your anxiety stems from one particular episode, talking to a dentist about it could, in of itself, be enough to help you feel better, offering a view from a professional’s prospective and making a little more sense of things.
Beyond simply talking things through there are a number of more involved avenues you could explore.
As your anxiety is essentially psychological, there are a variety of ways you can use psychological strategies to help you remain calm, collected and comfortable. One of the most straightforward is the distraction technique. This involves using a pleasant stimulus to keep your mind off the procedure itself and help you to relax. This might take the form of using mental concentration to focus on something else, or it could be a tangible distraction. For example, depending on the facilities available at the practice in question, you might be able to watch a DVD of a favourite film or listen to some music or an audio book. If you’re wrapped up in a good story, you may barely even notice the dentist at work.
Another option is hypnotherapy. Though this hasn’t been concretely proven as a medically certified way to cure anxiety, it does help people to feel more relaxed and better able to cope with certain situations in which they might otherwise struggle. It works by using the power of suggestion to help alter your mental approach to certain problems, helping you to surmount obstacles in your thinking. Hypnotherapy isn’t the same as stage hypnosis acts you might have seen where the hypnotist is able to control a subject. You’ll remain lucid through the process and do not have to worry about surrendering your will or being manipulated. If you don’t feel that any of these options will work for you, you may want to look at using sedation instead.
Despite what you might think, using sedation doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be rendered unconscious. Many forms of sedation will leave you awake, but in a state of heightened tranquillity. Your memory could be affected and there’s a good chance that you will not have a particularly detailed recollection of events. Your powers of reasoning and sense of coordination may also be diminished, and for that reason, with certain kinds of sedation, you may need to be accompanied to the practice by a friend or family member and be seen home again too. Oral sedatives such as diazepam may be used either on the day of your procedure, or even the night before. Alternatively, at the practice you might take ‘gas and air’ and inhale a sedative, the effects of which can wear off quite quickly. Intravenous sedation is another option. In this scenario the medicine will be injected into your body, normally via your hand. Though you will be lucid enough at the time to converse with your dentist, after it’s over you may not remember the exchange.
Finally, you might opt for a general anaesthetic if it’s appropriate. It’s generally seen as being a last resort and would only be employed if you were genuinely unable to undergo treatment via any of the other methods described above. You will be completely unconscious for the entirety of the procedure and will need someone to keep an eye on you for up to 24 hours after you receive treatment, as you may not quite have all your faculties during that time.
If I Have Treatment Whilst Hypnotised How Can I Know What My Dentist is Doing?
As stated above, despite common perceptions of hypnosis, you will not be under anyone’s power or unable to exercise self control using this psychological aid. You will be conscious and aware of your surroundings. You will also be able to remember events as they occur whilst under hypnosis.
The experience is similar to being absorbed in a daydream or a gripping film. You might describe it as trance like, but you’ll still be able to respond to normal stimuli. Needless to say, this will only ever be practised by an experienced professional who will be able to talk you through the whole process in great detail, explaining exactly how it will all work. They will be happy to answers whatever questions you have and to address any concerns you’re harbouring in full before going ahead with things. Of course, you’re free not to proceed if you feel at all uncomfortable
Will Using Sedation Once Mean I’ll Always Need It?
No. It’s still possible for you to overcome your anxiety through the various methods outlined in this article, however, it should be stressed that having got through treatment with the help of sedation may not contribute towards you getting past your anxieties, especially if you don’t remember much of the experience. Having small scale dental treatments that are less intimidating, such as a thorough cleaning, could help, as could talking to and forging a relationship with your dentist. The more familiar you are with their work, the more likely it is you will feel comfortable undergoing treatments. Of course, if you’re unable to overcome your phobia and still require urgent dental work, you may have to fall back on sedation if psychological methods aren’t working.
Do All Dentist Deal with Dental Anxiety?
No. Depending on your particular case you may want to seek out a specialist who has the requisite skills to treat you in the way you desire, whether that be through conversations, hypnosis or sedation. Indeed, you may decide you would rather use Behavioural Cognitive Therapy, in which case your GP may need to refer you somewhere else entirely. If you are set on sedation, you could go to an NHS sedation clinic or a private practice with a background in such work.
I’m Booked For An Appointment But Am Still Nervous. What Can I Do to Prepare?
As discussed above, arming yourself with more knowledge about what will be happening is a good tactic. Simply ask as many questions as you like before hand to ensure that you are completely in the know with regards to your procedure.
I Know I Will Appear Nervous to My Dentist and am Scared I Will Put Them Off. Should I Be Worried?
No. Dental anxiety is very common and even people who don’t feel a need to avoid treatment are often a little nervy when visiting a dentist. Yours will have experience of dealing with patients that aren’t entirely at ease. The best course of action is to speak your dentist before hand and make the situation clear.
A recent article by Mail Online shows that putting off a visit to the dentist is worse than actually going. Toothpick offers an easy way to book an appointment with a private or NHS dentist online, 24 hours a day, and offers ratings and reviews to help you make an informed choice.