No, you’re not psyching yourself out — dental fear is very real. Clinically, it is known as odontophobia, or fear of dentists. It is actually a common phobia among people of all ages. And even if you don’t have a full-blown phobia, many people have at least some misgivings about going to the dentist. Sadly, this prevents quite a few from regularly seeing their dentist and getting the care they need.
The good news is you don’t have to be powerless in the face of dental fears. Here are 7 self-help techniques you can do to overcome your fear.
Types of Dental Fear
To come up with a way of tackling your fear, you need to first understand it. There are many types of dental fear. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common.
Some people have an irrational fear of the dentist. (But that doesn’t make the fear any less real.) Perhaps you remember Little Shop of Horrors and Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist in the motorcycle jacket. Maybe you had a bad experience with an impatient dentist when you were young. Dentists are people too — they’re not always perfect. The key is to find someone you can trust, who can help you face your dental phobias with a relaxed and positive attitude.
Fear of Needles
The advancement of Novocain (numbing agent) has made dental procedures profoundly more comfortable. But it must be delivered with a needle, with a fairly uncomfortable pinch. If you’re given enough, that’s all you’ll feel, hopefully. The catch you might not be given the right amount. People differ, and the amount necessary to relieve the pain can differ according to each individual as well as the specific treatment.
If you’re not comfortable, don’t be afraid to ask for more Novocain. Sure, it will require another pinch of the needle, but the relaxation, comfort and freedom from pain will be worth it.
Certain Sounds & Smells
Some people associate certain sounds — a grinding dentist drill, or the burning smell from using the drill, for example — with bad dental experiences.
But no matter what kind of dental fear you have, here are 7 self-help techniques to help make you more comfortable.
Our 7 Self Help Techniques to Ease Dental Fear
Visit a Dentist You Can Trust
Like a doctor’s bedside manner, some dentists have an innately great “chairside manner.” They can make you feel at ease as soon as you sit in the chair. They have a relaxed and gentle manner. Most importantly, they take your pain and comfort needs seriously. They listen, and adjust their treatment methods accordingly.
Find a dentist who makes you feel good. You can trust your gut on this one. It’s worth shopping around until you’ve found a dentist.
Tell the Dentist What You’re Feeling
It’s always good to be upfront about your fears with your dentist — we won’t be insulted or think you’re crazy. If we know you are nervous or have a phobia of dental appointments, we can work with you to help manage your fear. We can find ways to help you feel better. Perhaps we can give you nitrous oxide or laughing gas to help you better relax.
Come Early & Practice Meditating
Try to come to the appointment early. This way you won’t be stressed about making it on time. Arriving early also allows you to get comfortable. Take the extra time to practice some light meditation or simple mindfulness exercises. Simply sit and notice your breathing. Close your eyes and inwardly rest. Make peace with your mind before the appointment begins.
Bring a Comfort Item
The key to conquering your dental fear is to feel more comfortable during the appointment. Bring in an item that brings you comfort, like a favorite afghan, a scarf knitted by someone you love, or a good book to read while you wait before the appointment. You could also try anointing your clothes or face with lavender, a sensual aroma that can help you relax.
One great way to relax is to bring in your own music, perhaps on your phone. Make sure it’s music that will help you relax — perhaps some soothing classical or folk music. (Maybe skip the heavy metal this time!) Put in only one headphone so you can listen to the music but still be able to hear instructions from the dentist.
See a Psychiatrist or Hypnotist
If the phobia is serious enough, you might consider seeking more professional help through a psychiatrist, psychologist, or even a hypnotist. He or she might be able to guide you through cognitive behavior therapy or prescribe medications to make the process easier.
Be Patient with Yourself
Facing fear can be difficult. Be patient in your approach. Realize you won’t conquer it all immediately — and that’s okay. Go at your own pace. Start small and try to feel as comfortable as you can. With time, your fears will be eased and you’ll feel more comfortable at the dentist.