If you fear going to the dentist, you are not alone. Between 9% and 20% of Americans state they avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear.
People with dental anxiety have a sense of uneasiness about an upcoming dental appointment. They may also have exaggerated worries or fears.
Dental phobia is a more serious condition that leaves people panic-stricken and terrified. People with dental phobia have an awareness that the fear is totally irrational but are unable to do much to change this. They exhibit classic avoidance behavior; that is, they will do everything possible to avoid going to the dentist. People with dental phobia usually go to the dentist only when forced to do so by extreme pain.
Other signs of dental phobia include:
Trouble sleeping the night before the dental exam
Feelings of nervousness that escalate while in the dental office waiting room
Crying or feeling physically ill at the very thought of visiting the dentist
Intense uneasiness at the thought of, or actually when objects are placed in your mouth during the dental appointment or suddenly feeling like it is difficult to breathe
For some people, the fear of visiting a dentist outweighs the pain of a toothache. But putting off that visit almost invariably leads to more advanced oral health problems and lengthier, more complex procedures. What many people don't realize is that they can work with their dentists to learn about and implement anxiety- relieving strategies, according to Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums, a new report from Harvard Medical School.
The most direct approach is to be straightforward with your dentist and explore various strategies for pain reduction together. Improvements in techniques, medications, and equipment over the past 30 years mean much more comfortable visits than those you might recall from childhood.
Dental Health for Adults describes in detail both standard and novel treatments available for pain management, such as local and general anesthesia, anti-anxiety medications, and conscious sedation. The report also includes a lengthy discussion of alternative approaches to dealing with dental anxiety. These are some of the tips in the report:
-- Have your dentist agree on a "stop" signal so you can take a time-out from the procedure.
-- Avoid caffeinated beverages before your visit, as they may make you jittery.
-- Listen to music on a portable music player before and during treatment.
-- Practice relaxation exercises and guided imagery techniques.
-- Get regular dental checkups, which help you build a good rapport with your dentist and enable your dentist to catch problems early.