Dental phobia is the serious, often paralyzing fear of seeking dental care. It has been reliably reported that 50% of the American population does not seek regular dental care. An estimated 9-15% of all Americans avoid much needed care due to anxiety and fear surrounding the dental experience. This translates to some 30 - 40 million people so afraid of dental treatment that they avoid it altogether.
In terms of your dental health and overall well-being, this can have serious ramifications. Besides chronically infected gums and teeth which can affect your medical status, your ability to chew and digest can be seriously compromised. Without healthy gums and teeth, your speech can be affected as well. Your self confidence can be compromised if you are insecure about your breath and smile. This can lead to serious limitations in both your social and business environments.
The first thing you can do is to realize that your dental fear can be overcome. Fear is a learned behavior which, therefore, can be unlearned. Patient-centered behavior modification that treats you as a whole person, not as a set of teeth can help you overcome your fears. This will obviously take a team approach between you and your dentist and his/her staff. Communication is the key. You must feel comfortable expressing your fears and concerns and have a sense that you are being listened to. If you feel that the Dr. and/or staff if not genuinely concerned and listening, then absolutely feel comfortable with seeking out referrals to other offices. You should never compromise the level of communication that you feel is necessary to give you a sense of control over your situation in the dental office. Modern dentistry with a compassionate dental team can be truly painless. You can desensitize yourself to your fears if you take the first step and allow the right team to help you overcome your fears.
A Sense of Control
Explanation and clarification of any and all procedures proposed is your right as a patient. If you have a question about a particular procedure, ask it! Empower yourself with the knowledge to alleviate fear of the unknown. You should have input into treatment decisions and choices. You should be honest with your dentist regarding how much treatment you think you can tolerate at first. As you build confidence in yourself and trust in the team that is caring for you, the length of your appointment and the amount of work accomplished will increase.
A Signaling System should be established allowing you to stop for any reason, whether it be because you need more anesthesia, want to rinse out, or simply need a two second break. The most common signal is raising your hand.
Never be Embarrassed
If you have been ridiculed in the past for your behavior or if you are embarrassed by your present dental condition caused by your neglect, please express yourself honestly and give your present dentist a chance to understand your concerns and show you that they care. You will be amazed at the wealth of treatment options that you might not have thought were possible. With modern dentistry, it's never too late to recreate a new smile!
If you feel tense in the chair, the easiest way to relax is through forms of physical relaxation. A relaxed body promotes a clear and relaxed mind. The human body cannot be physically relaxed and mentally anxious at the same time! The brain won't process these feelings simultaneously. Physical relaxation methods are easier to accomplish at first as compared to cognitive ones, so practice forms of physical relaxation first.
Examples of physical relaxation are Diamphragmatic Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and various methods taught in yoga . There are numerous books and sources for these methods. If you induce relaxation in the presence of the stimuli that normally induces your fears (the dental environment), the fear response will be greatly diminished over multiple exposures and you will gradually desensitize yourself to these fears as you build confidence. The memories of traumatic visits will be replaced with more innocuous ones and this less threatening environment coupled with your relaxation methods will help you eliminate your fears.
As you get more comfortable in the dental environment, you can engage in various distraction techniques that many offices have. The use of an iPod or any music listening device is a common technique. Our offices now are equipped with movie glasses that provide both visual and auditory distraction by allowing you to view movies through these glasses while having dental work done. We only suggest using distraction techniques once you have established some trust and confidence because your ability to communicate will be compromised, although it is easy to stop any of these devices if need be.
Predictable Pain Control
Modern dentistry has many new techniques with regards to the administration of local anesthetics to block any possibility of pain. There are many people who have anatomical or biologic variations that do require more individualized techniques in order to predictably achieve proper local anesthesia. This variation must be respected and communicated to your dentist. All injections should be given slowly . The needle itself is not the major cause of discomfort, but in fact, it is the pressure and volume of the fluids being injected that causes the discomfort. There are also great differences in the types of tissue in various locations anatomically and from person to person that must be considered when administering injections. There are even computer-controlled machines that are now available to standardize the injection process and make it more predictable than the conventional hand-held syringe. (See section on "The Wand".)
COMMUNICATE, EMPOWER YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE AND TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR FEARS!
If this sounds like YOU why not telephone the practice before booking your appointment and explain. Do not be embarrassed. A good dentist will have come across this many times and will be able to treat you accordingly.