How to Manage Dental Anxiety

How long have you experienced anxiety at the dentist? Is it a new development or something you’ve struggled with since childhood?

The longer this has been a problem, the worse shape your overall health may be in.

And while this article won’t be a cure-all, our goal today is to help you figure out how to deal with dental anxiety.

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Is it Dentophobia or Anxiety?

Dentophobia (fear of dentists) is an anxiety order and nothing to be embarrassed about. Some people are afraid of spiders, while others are afraid of roller coasters. We all have our limits, and yours happens to be going to the dentist.

Now, you might not have dentophobia. This phenomenon only happens to about 36% of U.S. adults, with 12% having an extreme fear.

Signs you have dentophobia may include:

  • You haven’t been to the dentist in years out of fear of even scheduling an appointment.
  • Frequent occurrences of crying or having a panic attack at the dentist.
  • You avoid dental treatment even when you’re in pain.

Dental anxiety, on the other hand, is far more common. According to Jessica Suedbeck, RDH, MSDH, and Kayla Reed-Fitzke, Ph.D., LMFT, “Although rates vary by methodology and may be underreported, researchers estimate that up to 80% of Americans experience some form of dental anxiety. Of these patients, approximately 20% do not receive routine dental care (such as oral prophylaxis). Between 9% and 15% avoid the dentist at all costs.” (1)

A sign of dental anxiety is feeling an intense sense of dread when you know your bi-annual cleaning is coming up. On the way to your appointment, your chest tightens, your sweaty palms grip the steering wheel, and you might be shaking by the time you have to sit in that dental chair.

In both instances, the reason behind that fear is about the same.

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Why Do I Get Anxiety at the Dentist?

Listen, we get it. Going to the dentist isn’t fun (especially as an adult because you don’t get to pick a toy from the treasure box anymore).

If your anxiety at the dentist has been present since you were a kid, it’s probably because you had a bad experience. And if you’ve neglected regular visits since becoming an adult, that association of fear at the dentist is still present.

If this is a new development, here are a few common reasons why you might experience anxiety at the dentist:

  • Fear of needles or sharp objects
  • Aversion to blood
  • Fear of pain
  • PTSD
  • Generalized anxiety disorders
  • Control or trust issues
  • Previous head or neck trauma

RELATED: THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTHY GUMS

Consequences of Skipping Dentist Appointments

There is only so much you can do to protect your oral health, even with a rigorous oral hygiene routine.

The whole point of bi-annual dental visits is to treat early signs of gum disease. Regular cleanings also eliminate plaque that has reached areas you can’t get on your own with a toothbrush.

These cleanings prevent cavities and gum disease, but studies have also shown that being proactive in your oral health can help deter other health conditions such as heart diseasediabetes, and even cancer.

Another consequence of skipping these appointments is money. The more you allow plaque to seep into the crevices of your teeth and gums, the more expensive dental treatment (like root canals or dental implants) you’ll need.

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How To Deal with Dental Anxiety

If you’ve always had anxiety at the dentist, your solution is probably to avoid it as long as possible. As we mentioned, this can be detrimental (and expensive) to your overall health.

Thankfully, modern dentists consider cases like yours within their practice. You might be surprised to find that your dentist probably has tools to help with your dental anxiety management.

All you have to do is ask!

But in case you want a DIY solution, here are 4 ways you can deal with dental anxiety:

Option #1: Bring Your Headphones

Nope, we don’t mind at all! Immersing yourself in another environment— whether that be Tik Tok videos, a podcast, or an audiobook— is a great way to escape your dental anxiety.

Option #2: Research Your Dentist

Fear of the unknown or lack of control are reasons why people develop anxiety. The best thing you can do to curve these worries is to research your dentist.

A good dentist should leave no questions unanswered by simply glancing at their website.

For example, you should be able to view their:

If you find a dentist that looks promising, give them a call! They may even offer free consultations.

RELATED: Are You Ruining Your Teeth With These Bad Habits?

Option #3: Go To a Dentist That Caters to Dental Anxiety

For the last 5-10 years, researchers have been analyzing the benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in medical settings with positive results.

That’s why it’s not uncommon to see therapy dogs at dentist offices today. With strict policies in place, therapy dogs have continuously proved to help alleviate dental anxiety.

So, ask your dentist if they have a therapy dog or other tools to help manage your symptoms.

Option #4: Go Once Per Year

Despite what dentists have been telling you, studies suggest that one visit to the dentist every year is enough to keep your oral health in check. Even the American Dental Association says,

“Some people need to visit the dentist once or twice a year; others may need more visits. You are a unique individual, with a unique smile and unique needs when it comes to keeping your smile healthy.”

Making a once-per-year commitment is a lot less intimidating than those bi-annual visits. As long as you’re not at risk for gum disease, an annual visit is better than none. Talk to your dentist about this option after your next visit.

When you finally get to that dentist’s chair, try breathing exercises or coping techniques (like this one) to help settle your mind and body.

Schedule a Stress-Free Dentist Appointment with Dr. Jack Bodie

Our staff is trained to help patients who experience anxiety at the dentist. Call us or visit our office at 800 East Campbell Road, Suite 180 Richardson, TX 75081.