For a variety of reasons, many people suffer from a certain degree of dental phobia — an anxiety about visiting the dentist. Whether due to perceptions around the tools and procedures, the general medical atmosphere, heightened stories from family and friends, or past trauma, a number of patients come into their dental visits with their guard up and a degree of wariness, if they come in at all.
Unfortunately, those patients with such an intense dental phobia who put off scheduled visits as long as possible or are unable to visit an office entirely, will often find their dental issues and overall oral health suffering unnecessarily as a consequence. And letting what would have been a minor issue escalate until it becomes unavoidable, leads those same patients into more intense and involved procedures to protect and correct the issues in their mouths, teeth, and gums.
So how can patients address dental phobia head-on to protect and preserve their smiles? Confronting anxieties, communicating with dentists, and taking control where possible are all ways patients can find ways to cope when dental phobia is holding them back.
Why Annual Exams and Dental Cleanings are Important
The purpose of a routine dental exam is twofold. Dentists check on the progress of a patient’s oral hygiene, and they also try to catch issues that are still minor that can be addressed before they need major corrective action. Because of this, patients who attend their annual exams and cleanings on schedule end up saving time, money, and peace of mind knowing that they’re proactively caring for their teeth and mouth.
Generally, missing one dental cleaning or check-up, or pushing an appointment back to a later date, won’t cause significant harm to a patient’s teeth, or lead to irreparable damage. But when patient’s avoid multiple appointments over time due to dental phobia, or start ignoring the signs of an obvious issue that’s already formed in their mouth — such as tooth pain or issues chewing — they can end up with a much worse issue than they began with, such as a serious infection. Counterintuitively, this can also exacerbate a patient’s dental phobia, as the greater the issue and the longer it’s left untreated, the more it compounds a patient’s anxiety and leads to the reality that serious medical intervention will be required.
How to Address Dental Phobia Anxieties and Fears
Talking about issues goes a long way toward solving them. Speaking directly to the dentist and dental office staff about worries, questions, and concerns, and why they exist allows the dental phobia to be untangled and smoothed over by the dentist and staff. It also opens up the avenue of accommodation, as dentists can share ways they can work directly with patients to lessen and bypass portions of the exam to ensure the patient still receives the necessary care without the anxiety.
Asking questions, speaking up when you feel pain (and noting to what degree), and talking through preconceived ideas about procedures can all help the dentist and staff tailor the entire scenario and more amenable to a patient’s needs and concerns.
Employing mindfulness techniques can help curb the generalized anxiety related issues a patient is feeling toward dental procedures. Taking slow breaths while counting to five can help patients’ minds concentrate on a simple, focused task, while the act of deep-breathing helps slow and regulate the heartbeat. This triggers the brain to create a sense of calm.
It can also help to create a positive association around upcoming appointments. Planning a visit for a special location or making time to visit a relative or acquaintance the same day as an appointment can stimulate positive feelings, providing encouragement for a patient to attend their scheduled visit. Eating or drinking can be difficult around a dental exam, but the positive feelings from planning for other small rewards — such as treating oneself to a movie or picking out a new book — can also motivate a patient to override their anxiety.
Working through dental phobia takes a deliberate effort on the part of the patient, and it’s not an easy task to accomplish. For particularly deep-rooted anxieties, they can take significant time and patience, and it may not always work out.
What’s most important is that patients focus on incremental positive improvements and on how much better they will feel to know the health of their teeth and mouth. Again, working directly with dentists and dental staff is also important, as they actively want to help patients feel comfortable coming into their office, and to provide an overall positive, inviting atmosphere for oral health exams.
If you’re looking for dental specialists with top quality care and customer service, look to the team at Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry of Frankfort. Providing the community with high-quality professional dental services from experienced and committed staff, Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry is dedicated to making each patient feel welcome, safe, and respected. Reach out to the team at Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry today to schedule your next dental service appointment.