A visit to the dentist is unlikely to be at the top of anyone’s top ten list of favourite things to do. But unfortunately, for some people, their fear of the dentist prevents them from getting the dental treatment they really need.
Dental anxiety is fear, stress or anxiety associated with a dental setting, and it may be more common than you think.
In fact, about one in five Brits (1) admit to feeling frightened or anxious about visiting a dentist, and that’s not including children.
Two things most likely to incite anxiety are receiving an anaesthetic injection and getting a tooth drilled.
For other people, the act of simply stepping through the door or sitting in the waiting room can bring on a feeling of panic that makes them want to turn tail and run. Concern about the cost of treatment too can add a layer of extra anxiety which may, in turn bring about a full blown attack.
Research (2) suggests that dental fear and anxiety is also related to exogenous (external) factors, including a traumatic dental experience in childhood, horror stories from friends or family members, and even inherent personality traits.
The vicious cycle of dental fear
Aside from fears relating to past experiences and perceptions, a person’s existing oral condition may also trigger further anxiety. As a result, it’s easy for people to become trapped in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle (3).
- They put off getting the dental treatment they need.
- The condition of their teeth deteriorates further.
- They understand they will need more significant dental work, making them even more anxious about going to the dentist.
Unfortunately, being caught up in this cycle is common for many patients who present with dental fear. A good dentist however won’t judge you on the condition of your oral health, Instead, they will work with you to get you back on track.
How dental anxiety can affect oral health
Bi-annual check-ups and cleans are at the core of preventive dentistry and optimal oral health. A dentist can spot the early signs of gum disease, tooth decay, and cavities during these appointments and treat them before they worsen.
Regular dental cleans help prevent cavities because advanced dental equipment like ultrasonic cleaners remove plaque and hard tartar more effectively than a person can do at home with a toothbrush and dental floss.
Putting off or avoiding dental appointments is likely to exacerbate existing problems. So what starts off as an easy fix can easily escalate in the need for more complex, (and indeed, costly) treatment.
Who may be affected by dental anxiety?
Children and adults of any age can present with dental fear. While children who have suffered a previously bad dental experience can often overcome their fear with good support and care (4) adults who are anxious about their dental care tend to remain fearful throughout their lives.
However, fear of the dentist doesn’t have to mean never stepping foot inside a dental practice again. There are things that one can do before going to the dentist to help stay calm. Here are some top tips:
Talk to your dentist before your visit
Speak to your dentist before your appointment. Open communication between yourself and your dentist helps form a bond, easing some of your dental anxiety. With the high prevalence of nervous patients, most dentists will acknowledge dental anxiety, so be sure to tell them how you feel. It also helps if you can tell them what makes you anxious. Is it the fear of pain? The sound of the drill? Or injections? Whatever it is, your dentist will understand and can work with you to tailor a management plan.
Practice relaxation techniques
On the day of your appointment, take a few minutes to relax with meditation, yoga exercises, or stretching your muscles before leaving home. Also ensure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to your appointment. To combat anxiety while sitting in the waiting room, try taking a few deep breaths to calm both mind and body. Controlled breathing in the dental chair also helps alleviate feelings of panic and stress.
Get a good night’s sleep
Getting a full 8 hours sleep before your check-up, dental clean, or procedure works wonders and can help you to feel more relaxed. Studies have shown that up to 50% of people (5) who reported having dental anxiety stated not getting adequate sleep.
Caffeine acts as a stimulant (5), and too much of it can affect the nervous system, giving people the jitters. If you’re prone to jitteriness, it may trigger an anxiety attack.
If you do have a predisposition to anxiety or suffer from panic attacks it’s best to avoid coffee or fizzy drinks several hours before your dental appointment. Chances are that it will be harder for you to remain calm in the dental chair.
So now you know a few tips to help you feel calm before your dental appointment; let’s look at how a sympathetic private dentist can help you overcome dental anxiety.
Putting patients at ease – The Foxbury way
If patients arewilling to face their anxieties and fears head-on, we can do many things to help them. When patients visit Foxbury Dental, they can be assured that our team will do all they can to put them at ease.
For starters, patients can expect a warm welcome from our dental team and a friendly smile to help put them at their ease. Our modern surgery also has a homely feel, making patients feel more settled.
Here are some other ways we help patients manage their dental fear.
We listen and explain
We understand that much of a patient’s anxiety may stem from feeling out of control and not knowing what to expect. But don’t worry. Our policy is to greet patients in reception and explain what will happen during their procedure. This is the perfect opportunity for you to ask any questions or air any concerns. We find patients feel less anxious once they know what to expect and their concerns have been addressed.
We take away the sting
One of the most common reasons for dental anxiety is fear of a needle. In fact, one in ten people (6) suffer from needle phobia. Our caring dentist, Carmen, helps remove the needle’s sting by applying a soothing numbing gel or cream to the affected area in the mouth. Most patients feel little discomfort (if any).
As their dental work progresses, patients are distracted from discomfort by listening to soothing background music or watching a movie on the screen. Of course, you could always bring in your headphones and listen to your favourite playlist to help you relax and give you something else to focus on.
We embrace hand signals
Hand signals (7) are an excellent way for patients to communicate with the dentist during their treatment. Deciding before treatment on a signal, such as raising the left hand, reassures patients that they can take a short break if they feel overwhelmed at any point of their treatment or are experiencing discomfort.
While letting us know about your dental anxiety is the first step towards managing it, you may still find it hard to relax before a treatment begins. Because we want patients to have a good experience during their time with us, we won’t rush or push you into a procedure or treatment. We prefer to work with you to help you overcome your dental anxiety.
If you’re an anxious patient struggling to find a dentist that truly understands, then we’d love to hear from you. Better still, why not check out our patient reviews on Google and Working Feedback if you’re still unsure.
Are You ready to take the first step to overcome your dental anxiety?
Why not book an initial consultation with our principal dentist, Dr Carmen Jimenez or a member of her gentle and reassuring team. Call us today on 01858 455 100 or make an enquiry below.
When it’s time to settle the bill, we provide a variety of payments methods, care plans and finance options, so that’s one thing less to feel anxious about!
Oral Health Foundation – Income, Education and Self Isolation Linked to Dental Anxiety in New Report
NCBI Resources – Why Are People Afraid Of The Dentist? Observations And Explanations
BMC Oral Heath – The Vicious Cycle Of Dental Fear: Exploring The Interplay Between Oral Health, Service Utilization and Dental Fear
Better Health Channel – Dental Anxiety and Phobia
Dental anxiety – What Role Do Sleep disorders play in dental fears
Right as Rain – What To Do When You’ve Had Too Much Caffeine
Overcoming your needle phobia
Indian Journal of Dental Research – Efficacy And Feasibility Of Usage Of Hand Signals During Dental Procedure Among Students In A Dental Institute in Maduravoyal, Chennai: A Cross-Sectional Study