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5 Must Know Tricks For Handling Your Dental Phobia

Updated on September 18, 2015

About six months ago, my mom went in for a routine dental visit and walked out with several thousand dollars worth of damage to her teeth. Flash forward to present day (aka six months from then), and my mom finally found the time to make it in for her follow up appointment, only to be scolded because she needed a total of three (yes, three) root canals. Unfortunately, this is an all too familiar scenario for the vast majority of the population, and while my mom is not a sufferer of dental-anxiety, she is a woman on the run, which is just as difficult for a dentist to handle. With roughly 40% of the population foregoing dental care for one reason or another, American’s oral hygiene is stumbling downward just as quickly as Justin Bieber’s career.

The problem stems from a very real issue affecting something like 75% of adults in the United States, with about 5-10% of those adults suffering from an actual phobia of dentistry. This phobia can be so severe that it leaves many adults with poor oral hygiene, tooth decay, or worse, because of their inability to seek dental healthcare in a timely manner. Of course, this anxiety feeds off of itself, forcing its sufferers into a never-ending cycle that results in them feeling more anxious than before. If you’re a dental anxiety sufferer, then you probably know the drill: you avoid the checkups, a dental problem strikes (a sore tooth, an abscess, ect…), you ignore the issue and try to convince yourself it’ll disappear with time, you require increasingly difficult and expensive procedures to fix the initial problem, which in turn sends you into a panic. It’s a frustrating cycle and difficult to break up with, but if you want to continue making excuses and not finding time to see your dentist, you’ll likely be left like my mother: in need of three expensive and painful root-canals.

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Break the Cycle

Breaking the cycle can be difficult and intimidating, mostly because most dental patients suffering from dental anxiety are experiencing very real signs of panic when they even begin to consider entering a dentist office. However, practicing some of these tips and tricks can help you get settled into a dentist chair, keeping your teeth healthy and smile shining brightly.

Play Some Tunes

Being a very real sufferer of dental anxiety myself, I have learned to pinpoint the source of my panic and come prepared. The sound of drills, water jets, and picks grating against the tooth are all noises that send me into a tizzy. I’m so bad, in fact, that at one of my last dentist appointments, I kept my dentist waiting for twenty minutes until I calmed down to the point that my body would stop shaking—I’m that bad. Luckily, since then I have learned to load my phone with music loud enough to block out the noises. While the act of listening to music has always calmed me, when in the dentist chair it has an almost euphoric response on my nerves. Using music I find myself in a much more zen place, while panicking much less than ever before. Choose songs that you like and that will soothe you into believing that you’re somewhere safe and familiar, rather than pressed against a sticky leather chair, with your mouth hanging open for the world to see.

You Ain't Never Had A Friend Like Me

I’ll bet that that’s the truth. With a constant desire to drill into your mouth, a penchant for poking around your gums, and a tendency to accidentally suction your tongue, it’s unlikely you’ll ever find a friend like this again. A friendly dentist can work wonders on your anxiety both prior and during your appointment. Always find a dentist who you trust will treat you well while you are in their chair, but also someone who is reputed for their excellent work. The more you trust and like your dentist, the less likely you are to have a full fledged panic attack each time you enter their office. Ensuring that your dentist’s office is one filled with comprehensive treatments and the friendliest environment possible works wonders in your every day dental visit. From the front desk, to the dentist assistant, to your actual dentist you should feel like you’re in the safest and most caring hands possible.

Take Care

The recommended number of yearly visits to a dentist office is two, that’s one visit every six months. Many people only take their oral hygiene seriously in the week or two surrounding these visits, but the fact of the matter is that you need to take your oral hygiene seriously for more than two or three weeks out of the year. Proper oral care comes from brushing your teeth twice daily (sometimes three times) with a soft bristle brush so as not to harm the enamel. You should also practice flossing once a day and using a cavity-fighting fluoride mouthwash to help further protect your teeth from decay. Proper care helps protect your teeth from tartar and plaque build up, yellowing stains from coffee or red wine, and enamel break down from the acids in many of our everyday beverages. Taking care of your teeth in between your visits will not only help your teeth remain strong and healthy, but it will cut back on your nervousness when you do have a visit. Knowing that you’ve done all you can to keep your mouth cavity and gingivitis-free will help you feel less anxious about the possibility of drills being used in your mouth at your next visit.

Dental Anxiety: You're Not Alone

Double the Fun

As mentioned above, seeing your dentist twice yearly is recommended to get a full look at the inside of your mouth and teeth. By seeing your dentist twice a year you are likely to see your anxiety levels drop because you are less likely to be surprised by what they find. Going in for deep cleanings on a regular basis also helps to get your teeth cleared out of any plaque buildup that your common day toothbrush might otherwise miss. This practice is especially good for those who drink a lot of coffee, soda, or eat sweets as the break down of enamel plays a large factor in tooth problems down the line.

Voice Your Fears

An outrageous thought, but one that works nonetheless. Discuss your fears with your dentist prior to visiting them, particularly when you’re searching for a new dentist to fill your tooth cleaning needs. As I pointed out before, a huge percentage of people suffer from dental anxiety, meaning that your fears are not only something your dentist has heard before, but are likely easily managed. Many dentists are open and willing to hear about any past experiences you might have had and are willing to nod without judgment if you admit that you’re nervous because you haven’t been taking as well of your teeth as you could have. Be honest with your dentist and they in turn can help you in ways that you might not have otherwise realized (such as sedation dentistry).

Trust me, I understand; going to the dentist has been a lifelong, often terrifying experience for me. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized that it doesn’t have to be as trying or difficult as I’ve always made it out to be, leaving my teeth in much better shape than they’ve ever been. Besides you’re hardly the first person to experience anxiety over the dentist, nor will you be the last. So just pop in your ear phones, turn up your tunes, and open wide as your dentist gets on giving you the best smile around.

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    • Kelsey Farrell profile image
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      Kelsey Elise Farrell 2 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Jack, I completely agree. My own crown costs upwards of $500 and that was only because I have dental insurance--and I'm just coming off of being a student! I'd be willing to bet a decent amount of people avoid or fear the dentist because they know they can't afford the procedures and would rather not know what they need done. Perhaps it's time for another post, but this time exploring where the money goes in dentistry. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Jack Burden profile image

      Jack Burden 2 years ago from Columbus, OH

      The major problem for me with Dentistry is the shear cost of it. Even though I have insurance through my employer, the maximum benefit per year is $2000. I have one broken tooth which needs extraction, a bone graft, and an implant for which the dentist wants $6000 (after insurance). That's a ridiculous amount of money for one tooth.

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