How do I know if I suffer a true dental phobia or fear?
As mentioned previously, approximately 70 – 80% of the population suffer some form of dental anxiety. When these emotions or feelings of anxiety escalate, they may be classified as either a fear or phobia. If you answer yes to any of the following questions it may signify that you have some form of dental anxiety, fear, or phobia.
- Do you feel nervous while waiting in the reception area of a dental practice?
- Do your hands go sweaty or start to shake, or do you feel nauseous when thinking about making a phone call to book an appointment with a dentist.?
- Do you worry, feel uneasy or have considerable tension the evening prior to a dental visit, that could make you cancel your appointment?
- Do objects placed in your mouth during the dental visit make you panic and feel like you cannot breathe correctly, or create a feeling of choking?
- Do you feel uneasy and anxious whilst in the dental chair?
- Have you had a prior dental experience that was unpleasant, traumatic, causes flashbacks, feelings of anxiety and stress, or an avoidance behaviour in making new appointments?
- Does seeing the Dentist or Dental Hygienist’s instruments make you anxious?
- Does the thought of having a dental injection make you feel nauseous or anxious?
- Do you feel that your dentist is unsympathetic or uncaring only with you?
- Do you worry that the dentist will say you have the worst mouth they have ever seen?
How do I overcome my dental fear?
The first most important thing any person can do is to realise that their dental fear can be overcome by ‘unlearning’ the behaviour or experience that caused the fear in the first place. Patient-centered behaviour modification that treats you as a whole person, not as a set of teeth, can help you to overcome your fears. This takes a team approach between you, your dentist, their staff, and if needed, psychological assistance.
How do I know I have found the right dentist and dental practice for me?
This important facet of overcoming a dental fear cannot be overstated. A person must feel very comfortable in being able to express their fears and concerns to a dentist, and have a sense that the dentist is actually listening to them and taking their concerns seriously without prejudice or judgement. Should you ever feel that a dentist and staff are not genuinely listening and concerned about your fear, then seek out other practices and practitioners who will listen to you. When you have found the right practice for you, you will feel immediately more relaxed, less fearful, and have confidence that your dentist is listening to you, and importantly, is understanding your needs.
I am embarrassed by my fear and that no one will understand.
Unfortunately, some people experience ridicule or are made to feel inadequate, silly, strange, or childish when they suffer a dental fear or phobia. This should never happen, and a person should never be embarrassed by their present dental condition caused by neglect, or a fear and phobia. Every person has something in their life they are fearful of and it presents with quite varied responses. The important thing is to be completely honest and open about your fear or phobia and what it causes, so that we can be completely prepared to assist you in overcoming it.
How do I find out more information about my fear or phobia?
The old adage that ‘knowledge is power’ cannot be more true for dental fears and phobias. Empowering yourself with knowledge greatly helps to alleviate fear of the unknown, and provides explanation and clarification of dental procedures proposed and available options are always discussed with your first. Information on dental fears and phobias can also be found in books, journals, and the internet can be extremely useful.
Am I able to speak out about what treatment I think I can tolerate?
Absolutely yes. Effective communication is always encouraged. Communication between the patient and dentist should occur from the very first consultation. A person should never dismiss the level of communication that they feel is necessary to give them a sense of control over a situation in a dental practice. Before treatment of any kind begins, it is important to be honest with your dentist regarding how much and what kind of treatment you think you could initially tolerate no matter how little this may be. If it is planned to do only ‘x’ amount of treatment at an appointment, then this is all that should occur. Do not be embarrassed by this, as the length of your appointment and the amount of treatment accomplished at each visit will increase gradually as you build confidence in yourself and trust in the Dental Practitioner who is caring for you.
There must also be a pre-agreed signalling system identified prior to any treatment starting, to enable the patient to be in control of the treatment throughout the entire procedure. It is important however, that the treating practitioner is well versed in recognising subtle patient behaviours, as people with dental fears and phobias can sometimes be so overcome with anxiety (panic attack), that they are not able to perform the ‘stop signal’. The practitioner will then immediately identify the problem and stop the treatment, regardless.
What are some easy things I can do to help me overcome my dental fear or phobia?
Depending on the actual cause of the fear or phobia, there are a variety of very effective tips and techniques we can discuss and assist you with. However, the following are the most straightforward but very important things any person can do:
Physical relaxation is the easiest way to relax your mind and body if you feel tense in a dental chair, as a relaxed body assists with placing your mind at ease. The human body cannot be physically relaxed and mentally anxious at the same time, therefore try practising some physical relaxation methods.
This may include Diaphragmatic Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation, that are typically used in meditation and yoga. There are numerous books and internet sources for these methods and they just take a little bit of practice. Inducing relaxation in the presence of stimuli that normally causes your fears, such as being in a dental chair, then the fear response will be greatly diminished over multiple exposures, and you are able to gradually desensitise yourself to these fears as you build confidence. In addition, memories of any traumatic dental visits will be replaced with much less fearful ones, and this less threatening environment coupled with your relaxation methods, will significantly help you to eliminate and overcome your fears.
Using something to take your mind of a dental visit or any treatment being conducted is extremely useful. Each person is different, and as such, varying methods can help with relaxation and distracting the mind from the treatment being carried out. Things like an ipod, MP3 player, stress ball, or similar can all be very useful. As you get more comfortable in the dental chair, you may even find that just listening to music is enough to distract you completely from being in the chair. Once proper communication, trust, and rapport is established, then distraction techniques work very well.
I have been in pain before even after an injection. Why?
There are many new techniques with regards to the administration of local anesthetics to block the possibility of any pain being experienced either before, during, or after a dental procedure. Many people have anatomical or biological variations that do require more individual techniques when providing local anaesthesia to achieve a predictable result.
If a person reports being able to feel pain or discomfort despite adequate or repeated doses of local anaesthesia, this isn’t a failure of the person, but is actually a very real problem of biological variability. If this occurs, the procedure should be immediately stopped and other options of local anaesthesia or sedative techniques investigated. These may include oral sedation (liquid), happy gas (nitrous oxide) or intravenous sedation to assist in achieving adequate pain control. A dental procedure should never proceed if a patient is still in pain, and the patient should never be made to feel as if it is their fault that a dentist cannot achieve anaesthesia (numbness).
Do I need a referral to attend your practice for assistance with my dental phobia and dental treatment?
No. All new patients are very welcome at all times. We will require an up-to-date medical and medication history however, that we can easily obtain from your current GP. A medical history form will also be provided to you on the day of your appointment to allow us to make sure we have the most current information on your health as possible. We will then sit down with you and discuss all of your needs, concerns, and dental issues, and formulate a thorough treatment plan and way forward before making any further appointments.
Please feel free to contact our rooms at any time by telephone or email should you have any further questions.