What if I am afraid of dental treatment?

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This is an excellent question. Possibly among the most important questions that one must deal with in considering dental care. If someone is afraid of dental treatment for any one of a variety of reasons, it is important to resolve this issue so that necessary treatment is not postponed. If routine treatment is delayed, problems that are often relatively easy to treat become less easy, more involved and often more expensive.

It is often a good idea to ask friends and relatives for the names of caring dentists who provide high quality care. You might then call their offices, explain your concerns and problems to the staff, listen to their responses and determine if you would like to set up an appointment to meet the dentist and have an examination. You could then decide if you like the approach of the dentist and staff and feel that they would work with you to help you feel comfortable with care. This may involve doing less per visit and starting with easier procedures so that you can build your confidence. It is important that treatment be explained and options presented so that you feel in control of yourself and the situation.

As in any similar situation, it may be necessary to meet several dentists for examinations to determine where you feel most comfortable. Of course, if radiographs are taken you should ask for copies, if you are still unsure of the office you will select. The examination visit may involve a fee, and multiple examinations would involve multiple fees. This may certainly be money well spent as you try to resolve a life-long concern. Ultimately, it is less expensive than lack of dental treatment and its consequences.

Also, nitrous oxide analgesia (laughing gas) may be another option; however it is still very important to resolve the fear of dental care.
Rita Medwid
Dentist
You are not alone. Most people don't like going to the dentist and many have a deep fear. Ask a friend, family member or co-worker who they trust to take care of their teeth. Ask them "did it hurt?" If they give you the answer you want, then go to that dentist. Meet with him or her first. Talk over the concerns. There are many options from sedation, to relaxation techniques to help you that the dentist knows about. Eventually, you will need to face your fear when you have a toothache. Work on getting the courage and just making that first step to better health.

Fear of the dentist, or in more severe cases, dental phobia, is the main reason that many people avoid the dentist. People with dental fears and phobias have many different reasons for their feelings. The vast majority will recall a past traumatic experience during a dental visit, and others fear being confronted by a dentist about the condition of their mouths. Negative dental stories told by family, peers, on the evening news and in advertisements can compound the fear and anxiety that these patients have.

People with dental fears and phobias have a number of options available to help them get the dental care that they need. The dentist can prescribe a mild sedative such as Valium to take prior to the dental visit, and then give nitrous oxide (laughing gas) during treatment. Another technique is called systematic desensitization, where phobic patients are exposed to various dental instruments and devices over time, until they became more familiar and less threatened by the dental environment. In other cases, deep breathing and relaxation is helpful. I have found that these techniques are rarely needed for most fearful patients. The single most important way for a dentist to help a patient overcome their fears is to have open communication, be sensitive to the fearful patient's needs, and take those fears very seriously. Once trust is established, fear virtually disappears. In very rare instances with highly phobic patients, these methods may not be enough. For these patients, dental treatment under IV sedation or general anesthesia should be considered, despite the increased risks and expense.

Don’t let anxiety keep you from achieving a healthy smile. With dentistry's many advances, diagnosis and treatment is more sophisticated and comfortable than ever. Sharing your anxiety may make it better. If you're tense or anxious, tell your dentist and the dental staff. Getting your concerns out in the open will let your dentist adapt the treatment to your needs.

Try to choose a time for your dental visit when you're less likely to be rushed or under pressure. For some people, that means a Saturday or an early-morning appointment. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring a portable audio player and headset so you can listen to your favorite music. During the dental visit you might try visualizing yourself relaxing on a warm beach. These positive techniques work wonders for many. Try them on your next dental visit. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.