4 Ways to Cope With Dental Fears

Discover easy ways to calm worries in the dentist’s chair – starting with the right dentist!

If you dread going to the dentist, you’re not alone. More than half of all people in the United States don’t see a dentist for regular dental care, and the main reason is fear, or even a phobia, of dentists. Ironically, the more you avoid the dentist office, the more problems you’re likely to develop and the more extensive—and expensive—any dental work will be. The good news: With recent advances in dental technology and pain medication, the dread is unnecessary. “Almost all dental treatment today can be done with minimal or no pain,” says Jeffrey Gordon, DDS, a dentist in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, whose practice focuses on helping patients overcome their fear of the dentist.

Here, four ways to calm your anxieties and get the dental services you need:

  • Find the right dentist. Ask a friend or family member for recommendations, search the Internet and pay close attention to dentist reviews, or ask your family doctor if he or she knows of a good local dentist. A skilled and compassionate dentist will take the time to understand what you are afraid of and why. Make an appointment for a consultation only. Don’t be embarrassed if it’s been a long time between visits, and be open about any prior experiences that may have triggered your anxiety. The best dentist is one who takes your concerns seriously.
  • Discuss pain control. Knowing what lies ahead will help you feel more relaxed. Find out what pain reduction methods the dentist uses and understand how they work. For instance, there are potent new topical anesthetics that make teeth-cleaning a breeze; air abrasion therapy, a drill-free, pain-free, anesthetic-free way of gently “sandblasting” decayed areas on teeth, and a new buffering system that makes injections barely noticeable, says Dr. Gordon. Nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas, is still an effective way to induce relaxation.
  • Get time on your side. Choose an hour for your dental visit when you're less likely to be rushed or stressed—perhaps a Saturday, or an early morning appointment. Ask your dentist about “Structured Time”—breaking up a procedure into manageable chunks. For example, you and your dentist may decide that you will count to 10, then he or she will stop at some agreed-on signal (raising your right hand, for example). This gives you a built-in break and gives you a sense of control—a key component of feeling relaxed.
  • Distract yourself. Our senses can be powerful triggers for our emotions. Just the sound of the drill can be enough to get your heart pounding. Bring ear buds and a portable music player so you can drown out the drill with your favorite songs. Some offices have TVs or play DVDs to distract you. Another trick is visualization: picture yourself someplace relaxing, such as on a beach. Feel the sand in your toes, the warm sun on your face … and be transported. Concentrate on taking deep belly breaths (it works for childbirth!). Repeat a comforting mantra or affirmation (“I am calm”), and you will, indeed, feel more so.

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