Overcoming Fear of Dentist
Do you have a fear of the dentist? Does the thought of sitting in a dentist’s chair and having your teeth examined wig you out? Have you been putting off dental work for years because you can’t bring yourself to make an appointment?
If you find yourself saying yes to these questions, you wouldn’t be alone. Dental phobias are extremely common. In fact, many of my Chicago clients come in for counseling to help them work through strong medical care anxiety, particularly when it comes to seeing a dentist. At its core, we’re talking about dental phobia (aka dental anxiety).
The reasons behind a dental phobia are many. In some cases, the fear of the dentist arose because of a past bad experience – one who did not take pain control seriously enough. In other cases, fear of the dentist is a manifestation of a deeper anxiety, which can be classified under something called a specific phobia.
Here are some of the common feelings and experiences people have shared with me about going to the dentist, which paradoxically keeps them from seeking out the care they need in the first place:
- Fears about what the dentist will find after many years of not having teeth examined
- High anxiety about pain and discomfort
- Uneasiness about not being in control while sitting in the dentist’s chair
And to keep it real, let’s be honest – there’s nothing “fun” about going to the dentist. Sure, if you have a dental professional with a pleasant demeanor and a calming personality, it can help make the experience more comfortable. But anyone who tries to tell you that dental visits are a “good time” is living in fantasy land.
With that shared, going to the dentist also isn’t horrible. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Much of how you perceive a visit to the dentist happens before you ever set foot in the office. That may sound super Zen but it’s really quite true.
Chances are that if you are reading this post, it has likely been years since you have had your teeth examined because of strong dentist fears. There’s no need to feel ashamed about this. We thought somewhere around 40 million people in the United States avoid going to a dentist because of fear. That’s kind of a big number, huh?
So how do you overcome these fears and move about the business of getting your teeth checked out? Is there anything practical that you can do to turn your desire to have dental work done into a reality?
It turns out the answer is yes! And I’m not just saying this for the sake of saying it. You see, I too have had fears about going to the dentist for pretty much my entire life. So much so that I didn’t go for many years. So yeah – I completely get it.
And so what follows are 8 tips that I am going to share with you to help you work through your fear of the dentist. The goal, obviously, is to move you to a place of action so that you can pick up the phone and make an appointment today.
Are you ready to feel more empowered? Let’s jump right in!
Fear of Dentist Tips
1. Find the Right Dentist
If you have a fear of the dentist, it is extremely important to choose the right dental professional. Not all dentists are equally skilled at working with patients who have a dental phobia, so choose your provider with care.
Seek out reviews of area dentists, talk to other patients and reach out to the office staff. You can learn a lot just by talking to others who share your same fear of the dentist.
If you have some type of dental insurance, be sure to ask if the dentist is paneled with your provider when you make the call. It’s no secret that dental work can be expensive. If you don’t have dental insurance, think about using your employer sponsored Health Savings Account (HSA).
2. Consider Sedation Dentistry
If you think you need a lot of dental work done, you might want to consider a dentist who uses sedation for routine dental care. Sedation dentistry can be an excellent alternative for those with dental phobias, since it eliminates most of the pain and fear associated with a trip to the dentist.
When you call the office, ask if they offer sedation dentistry and find out as much as you can about how they operate. The more you know about their practices, the more comfortable you will be when you head out for your appointment.
If you are the type of person who gets freaked out about “being put under”, ask the dentist about what options exist about numbing your mouth so that you don’t feel anything. If the sounds of drills and picks wig you out, ask the dentist if it is OK to wear headphones and listen to music. In most cases, it is completely OK.
3. Be Honest About Your Fears
The worst thing you can do is try to hide your fear of the dentist. No matter which dentist you choose, you should be open and honest about how you feel and why you feel that way.
Whether your dental phobia is the result of a bad experience in the past or a more generalized anxiety, a good dentist will understand your concerns and help you work through them.
Some dentists may offer you medication to help you relax. Others many employ sedation for routine dental care. And still others will listen to you so that you can work through your fears. The bottom line is that a good dentist will be willing to go the extra mile to soothe their anxious patients.
4. Consider Hypnosis
Some people find that by visiting a licensed therapist trained in hypnosis, they are able to use the tools of mindfulness to work through anxiety and fear. Hypnosis for anxiety can be an effective tool as an adjunct to anxiety therapy to assist you with fortifying your mental and emotional strength to make that initial appointment and follow through with subsequent visits.
If you decide to use hypnosis, look for someone who is a licensed psychotherapist and has experience with helping people who struggle with phobias that are specific to medical issues, such as seeing a dentist.
5. Ask yourself which fear is more powerful
One of the major reasons people don’t go to the dentist is because they fear not being in control. That is a very legitimate thing. But when you think about it, by not going to the dentist, you are losing any control you might have over potential dental problems.
By going to the dentist, you are exerting control, finally, over something that you have fooled yourself into thinking you are powerless over. This particular point may take some time to fully absorb so think about it for a bit until it concretizes in your mind.
6. Visualize yourself taking action
Under this tip, find a quiet place and purge yourself of all thoughts. Then, when the time is right, allow yourself to mentally picture yourself picking up the phone and making an appointment. Once accomplished, journal a bit about what this felt like. A day or so later, add a little bit more to this mental rehearsal.
Example: Include a specific thought about making the appointment and then getting dressed to visit the dentist. Sometime later, add another thought about walking into the dentist’s office and checking in. The goal is to get yourself to finally having a complete mental rehearsal whereby you make the appointment, go to the dentist’s office and ultimately, sit in the dentist’s chair.
It may take you a week or several weeks to build yourself up to a place where you can comfortably mentally rehearse taking action from start to finish. That’s OK. Working through fear doesn’t happen overnight.
7. Visit the Dentist Regularly
Once you make that first dental appointment and get through it, keep going in succession. It may seem counterintuitive, but visiting the dentist regularly is one of the best ways to cure a dental phobia. The more you visit the more you will see that going to the dentist is no big deal, and that there is nothing to worry about.
Visiting the dentist on a regular basis will also allow your dentist to spot problems early – when they are easier and less painful to treat. If your dentist spots a bit of plaque and treats it with a good cleaning, you head off a cavity and a filling later on.
8. Take Care of Your Teeth at Home
Taking care of your teeth between dental visits is essential, especially for patients with dental anxieties. The better your oral hygiene at home, the more routine your office visits will be. Brushing your teeth after every meal and before bedtime, flossing regularly and eating a healthy diet can prevent cavities and stop dental problems in their tracks.
If you smoke cigarettes, quitting smoking can help your gums and teeth heal too. I know because I happened to have been a smoker for many years and can attest to the damage it did to my teeth. There’s a great article on the CDC website that you can read here for more insight.
If you care for your teeth properly at home, you might find yourself looking forward to your next trip to the dentist. Over time, you will see that those regular cleanings and exams are no big deal and that there is truly nothing to be afraid of.
Fear of Dentist Final Thoughts
One final suggestion I would like to make is to pick up a copy of the book, Fear Free Dental by Dr. Shamblott, a dentist who specializes in helping people with dental fears. What’s great about this read are the practical tips offered to help you feel more empowered so that you can get the dental care you need.