To fear or not to fear

What is your fear for the dentist about? Being 'afraid of the dentist' may mean different things to different people. Is it the fear on instruments, or fear of pain? For some patients, maybe the sounds and smells bring back memories of bad experiences as a child. The good news is that more and more dentists now understand their patients' fears and often are trained to manage this fear. It will probably help if you figure out just what it is that worries you most and explain to your dentist the same so that he can make provision, if any, in reducing the same.

Years ago it was normal for people to need fillings every time they went to their dentist, but things have changed for the better now. Your need of the treatment is partly based upon your oral hygiene habits, and also your diet. If your oral hygiene is good, you may be surprised at how little treatment you need. The dentist may simply help you keep a healthy mouth and healthy teeth. However, if your oral hygiene is poor, or you have other medical issues/ poor placement of teeth, chances are avoiding your dentist only worsens your problems. Remember, your teeth are for life and can last a lifetime if they are looked after properly. Once all initial issues have been managed, you should need less treatment in future and there will be simple maintenance only in the future. Thus, it is important to keep up your regular visits to the dental team. The dentist will not just check for tooth decay, but will also help you prevent gum disease or other oral problems.

Dentistry has actually grown in leaps and bounds in the past few decades. From the era of severe pain during pulling out teeth with no anaesthesia, dental techniques have improved so much over the last few years that modern dental treatment can now be completely painless. Despite this, most people still feel a little nervous at the thought of going to the dentist. If you have not been to see a dentist for some time/ if it is your visit, your fear may simply be related to the lack of exposure to a dental clinic. You will probably find that things have improved a lot since your last visit. The general attitude is likely to be more relaxed, the dental techniques and safety procedures will be much better, and the equipment will be more sophisticated, and up to date.

The first fear to deal with is the fear of telling other people that you are afraid of dental treatment. Once you discuss it with your friends / family or colleagues you are likely to find someone else who has similar problems. They may be able to recommend a dentist to you. A dentist who is personally recommended by another nervous person is usually a very good choice. Many dentists today offer special treatment for nervous patients.

Your first appointment should just be for a consultation. Here you can simply talk to your dentist about all your oral complaints. See it as an opportunity for you to relax at the dentist, adjust to the atmosphere, and develop a good rapport with your dentist, receptionist and other members of the team, and have a chat about what to expect next.

Take things one step at a time. Discuss any proposed treatment with your dentist, and decide what you feel you can cope with. This may be no more than an examination with a dental mirror first. If you succeed with that, you may feel you could have your teeth cleaned next. Try to feel confident and in control of the situation. But, don't be afraid to inform your doctor when you feel you cannot proceed further - there is usually no reason to hurry through the dental treatment. Remember, try and co-operate as long as you can tolerate. Unnecessary pausing during the treatment only prolongs your time on the dental chair.

Yes. Make sure that the team know you are nervous, so that they can help you. Tell your dental team what it is that you particularly dislike about dental treatment. Communication plays a good role in relieving your apprehension. If you think you know the reason, tell your dental team what may have caused your fear. Often, your dentist can explain the procedure in simple terms which can help you understand and possibly reduce your fear of the ‘unknown’ during the treatment.

This is simply a matter of personal preference. Book appointments at a time of day when you feel at your best, and when you do not have any other commitments to worry about. Allow plenty of time so that you can get to the practice in a relaxed frame of mind - arriving in a rush will only make you feel more nervous. Often a simple snack/meal before about half/ an hour before treatment can prevent you from feeling faint during treatment.

Many people are scared of the local anaesthetic injection needed to numb the tooth. Be sure to tell the dental team that this is something that bothers you. Remember that once an anaesthesia is given, your treatment reduces in both pain and discomfort so you can relax during the treatment. There are anaesthetic gels/sprays that can be applied to the area of the injection which numbs the area so that you cannot feel the needle. Try to breathe comfortably during the injection and divert your mind as much as possible. Staying still can help complete the injection as early as possible.

Definitely you can. Remember your dentist is trying to alleviate your oral issues and takes no pleasure in causing you pain. Before the treatment is started, agree with your dentist a sign that means ‘stop now - I need a break'. Usually you can just raise your hand, and the treatment can be stopped for a few minutes until you are ready to start again. Once you know that you can control the situation you will feel more confident.

People often feel better if a friend/ family member comes with them to the dental appointment. Think about what would suit you best. A reassuring and capable person is often a great help. However, avoid taking a person who is just as apprehensive as you!

Listening to music is a good way to help you relax. Some dentists have it playing in the treatment rooms, but the best way is to take your headphones and your phone or MP3 player so that you can have your own choice of music which can relax you. Also, thinking hard about something other than the treatment is a good distraction. Try to solve a puzzle in your mind, or count backwards from 100. You can also work out a plan for each day of next year's holiday. Or give yourself something tricky to do - try to wiggle each toe in turn, without moving any of the others.

This will depend on which techniques the dentist is experienced in, and which you feel would help you most. Many dental practices offer several types of sedation, either an injection or tablets can be given, as determined by your dentist. Some dental practices may also offer hypnosis and relaxation techniques. You could simply learn these techniques yourself, which would allow you to gain control over your feelings of distress or fear. You can also learn relaxation techniques from videos available online or at a specialist. Counselling is another way of dealing with feelings of anxiety. Your dentist may encourage you to discuss your fears so that you can deal with them and overcome them.

Fear is a state of the mind. As you get to know and trust your dentist and other members of the dental team, you will find your fears start to lessen. Often regular visits to the dentist and the exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of a clinic can help you will gain control over your fears, and dental care can become a normal part of your life.

Last updated on 30 November, 2018.

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