A fear of visiting the dentist is very real and it prevents millions of people every year from getting essential dental treatment. In fact research has shown that 5-8% of Americans avoid the dentist due to fear.
The problem with avoiding dental treatment and checkups is that eventually there comes a point where you have to visit due to complications related to untreated cavities. This results in you having to have major dental work done and then the whole cycle of fear continues!
Where does this fear originate?
Many people’s fear of visiting the dentist originates from childhood. Dentists could probably be described as being a little brutal “back in the day”. Children were often expected to be seen and not heard, meaning that any pain caused during treatments such as having cavities filled when the anaesthetic hadn’t been effective, or gums were being accidentally scraped was not voiced. Memories of bad experiences and pain get internalised only to resurface when it’s time to visit the dentist.
Often a person’s fear of the dentist stems from feeling a lack of control. It is the fear of the unknown, not being able to see around them and the vulnerable position of lying back in the dentist’s chair.
Pre existing anxiety disorders can also make a visit to the dentist a traumatic experience. This anxiety may not even be related to any dental experience, just a fear of new places, interaction and unfamiliar people.
A person may fear going to the dentist due to the bad state of their teeth. They may feel embarrassed that their teeth have got into a bad state and they may fear the cost or the level of dental work required.
How to combat a fear of the dentist
Research dentists in your locality and look for a dentist that is experienced in treating people with dental anxiety such as Mark Hanselman, DDS. Remember that dental treatment as progressed hugely in recent years, meaning that experiencing pain during treatment should not be an issue.
Ask if you can meet briefly with your dentist prior to any treatment. Be upfront about your dental phobia and ask any questions that you may have. A good dentist will be sympathetic and will try to allay any fears you may have.
Discuss with your dentist a way of communicating to them that the treatment is hurting or becoming too much to bear, obviously speech will be out of the question whilst treatment is taking place. You could suggest that raising your hand means “stop”.
Take a friend with you to give you confidence and maybe suggest relaxing music to be played. Many dentists that are experienced in treating nervous patients have relaxing music playing as a matter of course.
If the thought of dental treatment is too much to bare, despite the above steps being taken it may be worth discussing the possibility of sedation. A light sedative may do the trick and at the correct level you may not remember the treatment at all!