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If the idea of leaning back in a dentist’s chair is enough to give you nightmares, you may have a dental phobia. Fear of the dentist is so common that it has its own Latin name—odontophobia—and it’s estimated to affect about 15% of Americans, or 30 million people.
About 75% of U.S. adults experience some sort of fear of the dentist. But only 5 to 10% experience true dental phobia—that is, a fear so powerful and paralyzing it prevents them from going to the dentist altogether. This causes a cycle of avoidance in which the individual, who has avoided dental care due to fear, develops dental problems to the point of requiring a drastic emergency procedure. After the procedure, which is usually invasive, the individual is even more afraid of the dentist—and even less likely to return for a routine treatment.
If you suffer from fear of the dentist, it’s essential to break the cycle, lest you put your dental health—and emotional well-being–at risk. Here are 7 tips that can help.
Tell your dentist about your fears.
It’s not uncommon for adults with dental anxiety to be embarrassed by their phobia—so embarrassed that they don’t even share it with the number one person who needs to know. Remember, though, that your dentist has very likely encountered dental phobias before with other patients. Telling your dentist about your phobia will ensure that they can take the appropriate steps to accommodate your needs.
Get to know your dentist.
For many people, one of the most frightening parts of visiting the dentist is the thought of a scary, masked figure looming over them. However, it’s important to remember that underneath the white coat, your dentist is a real human being, just like everyone else. It may be a good idea to schedule an appointment simply to meet your dentist, discuss your fears, and get to know him or her. Recognizing your dentist as a real person will help you feel calmer when you see them beneath their medical mask.
Familiarize yourself with the tools.
It’s human nature to be afraid of sharp, pointy things—especially when they’re going in your mouth! Ask your dentist if it’s possible to hold each tool before your procedure so you can familiarize yourself with it. A good dentist will be understanding of your phobia and happy to explain what each tool is used for. You can also read up on various dental instruments online.
Establish a signal.
Before your procedure, set up a signal with your dentist, such as raising your hand, which will tell him or her to stop immediately. Being able to communicate any discomfort to your dentist will help calm your anxiety.
Ask for an adjustment.
Many odontophobic people dislike the helplessness and loss of control they feel when reclined in a dentist’s chair. Ask your dentist if it’s possible to only partially recline your chair. Sitting up halfway may help ease your fears and make you feel more in control.
Remember that times have changed.
The world of dentistry is rapidly changing. If you fear the dentist due to a traumatizing incident you experienced as a child, remember that your early dental visits happened before many advancements in pain-free dentistry. New dental products and procedures are being developed every day, and you may be afraid of a procedure that isn’t even performed anymore.
See a professional.
If your phobia is severe, it’s never a bad thing to seek professional help. A therapist can help you identify the cause of your fears and help educate you on ways to cope with your anxiety.
We encourage all our prospective patients with dental phobias to take some time learning more about our practice, our team, and our services. It may also help you to read our testimonials from patients just like you who feared treatment, yet ended up looking forward to a visit to our office. When you’re ready to take the next big step towards a beautiful smile, give us a call.