Have you put off going to the dentist because you’re afraid of what procedures you may need, or what might happen? If you have a lot of nervousness around going to the dentist, even when you know you need to make a visit, you may be suffering from dental anxiety. Dental anxiety may range from slight nervousness, which is somewhat common, to serious fear about a dental visit. If you know you should visit the dentist but you’re not sure about how to deal with dental anxiety, here are a few strategies you might try.
8 Strategies to Help Deal With Dental Anxiety
1. Find the Source of Your Dental Anxiety
When you think about it, what makes you nervous about the dentist’s chair? Maybe you know where your dental anxiety comes from, or maybe you’re not sure. Are you nervous about dental visits because you didn’t go to the dentist often as a child, so it’s unfamiliar? Or, did you have a bad experience at the dentist? Maybe you’re simply afraid of bad news, like hearing you have some tooth decay or something similar? Finding the source of your dental anxiety can help you manage it.
2. Think Positive and Question Assumptions
Maybe the source of your dental anxiety is from a bad previous experience. Ask yourself if this is likely to happen again, or how this could be avoided. Remember that you are working with a different dentist and, if you mention this bad experience, it can be avoided.
If you have other fears about a dental visit, question some of the assumptions you may be making. For example, if you’re afraid your visit will be painful, ask yourself why. Dental procedures do not have to be painful and, if you are experiencing a lot of discomfort, your dentist can help.
3. Be Honest, Speak Up
Talking to your dentist about your anxiety is one of the best ways to deal with dental anxiety. If you’ve had a bad experience in the past, share this, and explain why it gives you dental anxiety today. If you are sensitive to pain and discomfort around your mouth and gums, don’t be embarrassed; many people share this feeling. Explain this to your dentist, be as clear as you can about your level of stress or anxiety. If you are feeling excessive discomfort during your visit, tell your dentist, so they can adjust the procedure or provide the right amount of anesthetic, if necessary.
4. Ask Questions
Asking questions is another good way to deal with dental anxiety. A lot of dental anxiety comes from not knowing what to expect from a dental visit or procedure. Ask your dentist what procedures they’ll perform, and what these procedures entail. When you know what to expect and why a procedure is necessary, you won’t be caught off-guard.
5. Use Music
If music relaxes you in other situations, this might be helpful during a dental visit as well. Ask your dentist if you can play music, either outloud or using headphones, during your visit. Focusing on the music instead of the procedure may help to manage your dental anxiety.
6. Identify Signs of Anxiety
It’s helpful to know when you are starting to feel anxious, so you can use coping strategies before your anxiety gets out of hand. Ask yourself what your dental anxiety, or anxiety in general, looks like and feels like. You might look for the following signs. If you start to experience these, you’ll know when to start using a coping strategy.
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Sweaty palms
- Racing thoughts
- Upset stomach
- Feeling faint
- Shortness of breath
- Clenched teeth or muscles
7. Deep Breathing
Breathing exercises are commonly used to manage other types of anxiety, and this can be effective for coping with dental anxiety as well. When you find yourself experiencing symptoms of your anxiety (see above), breathing exercises are one method of coping. When you slow your breathing, it helps to reduce your body’s stress response. Rapid breathing and a fast heart rate indicates to your body that it’s time to fight or flee, while slower breathing and a slower heart rate indicates that it’s time to relax. Interrupting your body’s stress response with purposeful, slow breathing can help to lower your anxiety.
There are many breathing exercises that can help to reduce anxiety. Practice these several times on your own before your dental visit, so you’ll know how to respond when you start feeling anxious.
- Inhale slowly for three to five seconds. Hold your breath for three to five seconds, then exhale slowly for three to five seconds. Don’t worry about getting the time exactly right; focus on filling your lungs and simply breathing slowly.
- Focus on your breathing. Direct your attention to your chest, lungs, and heartbeat as you breathe. Try to focus only on the sensations of breathing, and don’t give attention to other thoughts as they enter your mind.
- Breathe slowly through your right nostril only, while blocking your left nostril. Then, try the same thing reversed.
- Breathe slowly through your nose and out of your mouth. Fill up your lungs as much as you can and exhale as slowly as you can.
8. Take Breaks
It might be tempting to try and get the experience over with as quickly as possible. However, taking breaks can help to make the experience more comfortable. Tell your dentist that you might need some breaks in between procedures. Agree on a sign, such as raising your hand, so that you can tell them, even if you can’t speak at the moment.
Dental anxiety or bad past experiences should not keep you from enjoying good dental health. Talk to your dentist about your fears and past experiences, and tell them about your needs. Use these strategies to deal with dental anxiety, and try other strategies that might work best for you. If your dental anxiety is severe, consider talking to a therapist, or asking your doctor or dentist about anxiety medication that might help.