Home Health & beauty Fear of the Dentist: How to Overcome Your Phobia

Fear of the Dentist: How to Overcome Your Phobia

by Arman Ali
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Fear of the Dentist: How to Overcome Your Phobia

Do chills run down your spine, or do you feel like you can’t breathe when you think you need to go for a dental visit? Perhaps you tremble and shake when you imagine yourself lying in a dentist’s chair. You may also feel dizzy, sweat excessively, and become nauseous.

Those are all symptoms of dental anxiety or fear of the dentist. And you’re not alone, either; as many as 15% of people worldwide feel the same way.

The good news is that there are several strategies you can use to cope with your fear. You should try them as soon as possible, as the longer you delay visiting a dentist’s office, the more likely your oral health will suffer.

This guide discusses the consequences of unaddressed dental anxiety or fear and how to overcome it, so read on.

The Consequences of Unaddressed Dental Anxiety or Fear

The symptoms of dental anxiety or phobia can be so severe that it can make you avoid seeing the dentist at all costs. They may be so unpleasant that, for you, they may outweigh the discomfort or pain caused by dental problems like cavities or gum disease. So, rather than seeing the dentist, you may just try to bear with it or take over-the-counter pain medications.

The longer that goes on, the higher your risk of not only experiencing worse dental diseases but other health conditions, too.

More Severe and Painful Oral Health Problems

Studies have found that people with dental fear have poor oral hygiene and more complications. These include tooth cavities, gum disease, and missing teeth.

Dental illnesses, such as tooth decay and gum disease, don’t always exhibit symptoms in their early stages. However, once they progress, they can become painful, even debilitating. Without

treatment, they can lead to tooth loss.

From there, missing teeth can result in more problems, such as the rest of the teeth shifting and becoming crooked. They can also lead to facial changes, such as the cheeks and the area around the mouth looking sunken. And while you can have lost teeth replaced with dentures or implants, they cost money, whereas your natural teeth are free.

Health Issues That Go Beyond the Mouth

There’s also a link between dental problems and other health woes, like those affecting the heart. For example, researchers associate gum disease with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The highly unpleasant symptoms of untreated oral problems can also affect your sleep. For instance, the pain can be so severe that you may have trouble falling asleep. Unfortunately, lack of or poor sleep can lead to even more issues like stress, impaired memory, and lower quality of life.

Increased Oral Health Expenses

The worse oral problems get, the more expensive they are to remedy.

For example, if you have cavities, a dentist can fix them with composite fillings that only cost between $90 and $250 (one to two teeth). But if you delay this, the decay can get so bad that, once you visit a dentist, they may have to extract and replace the teeth. Extraction costs around $75 to $800 per tooth, while full-set dentures can cost $600 to $8,000!

How to Address and Cope With Your Fear of the Dentist

Now that you know how dental anxiety or fear can impact your health, it’s time to take action to overcome it. This is even more crucial if you already have oral diseases needing immediate

attention. The sooner you learn to manage your fear of the dentist, the sooner you can get your oral health back in shape.

Here are tips and strategies that you can use to help you cope with your anxiety or fear.

Work With a Dentist Specializing in Sedation Dentistry

Making patients feel insensitive to pain is one of the great things about sedation dentistry. It uses sedatives that help patients feel calmer and more relaxed. Such effects make it ideal for people with dental anxiety or fear.

Not all dentists provide sedation dentistry, as only those with special certification can.

So, call the local dentists near you first and tell them about your anxiety or fear. Then, ask if they specialize in sedation dentistry. If so, they may recommend any of the following options.

Oral Conscious Sedation

With oral conscious sedation, you’ll take a sedative medication, often in pill form, an hour before your dental procedure. Your dentist will give you this medicine (e.g., triazolam, lorazepam, or zaleplon).

Oral sedation can make you feel so relaxed but also groggy that you may even doze off. You can still communicate with your dentist; if you fall asleep, your dentist will gently wake you up.

However, please note that oral sedatives have temporary memory and motor skill effects. So, if you choose this option, have a family member or friend accompany you and drive you back home.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” is a colorless gas widely used as a surgical and dental anesthetic. When administered appropriately, it can help safely manage anxiety and pain in patients.

If you choose this sedation option, your dentist will ask you to inhale the gas through a mask or nosepiece. Nitrous oxide works fast, delivering its calming effects within a few minutes.

After your procedure, your dentist will give you pure oxygen. This helps eliminate the laughing gas from your system. Once you feel alright, you can then drive yourself back home.

Intravenous (IV) Sedation

If you have severe dental anxiety or fear, your dentist may recommend IV sedation.

With IV sedation, your dentist will give you a sedative directly through your bloodstream. You may fall asleep soon after, and your dentist can proceed with the treatment. Once done, your dentist will wake you up, and you may have little recollection of the procedure (or even none at all).

Like oral sedation, you should have someone accompany you and drive you home after IV sedation.

Do Some Deep Breathing Exercises

The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that controls the body’s fight-or-flight response. It’s always active, but in people with anxiety or high levels of stress, it’s even more sensitive.

When you feel anxious, afraid, or stressed, the sympathetic nervous system thinks you’re in a fight-or-flight situation. It responds by sending more oxygen to your body to prepare it to either fight or flee. This is why you may experience breathing issues when your fear of the dentist hits you.

The good news is that you can calm your nervous system through deep breathing. This practice activates its other part, the parasympathetic nervous system. It controls the body’s rest-and-relax response.

So, to help combat your dental fear or anxiety, practice deep breathing exercises. It can help you feel more at ease and relaxed. Do this days before your appointment and while waiting in the lobby.

You can practice now by taking slower, longer breaths from the stomach. Inhale from your nose as you keep your mouth closed. Then, hold your breath for a second or two and slowly exhale through your mouth.

Think Happy Thoughts

This practice, also known as guided imagery, involves imagining yourself in your happy place. It can be a positive memory that always makes you feel good. You can do this while taking deep breaths and sitting in the dentist’s chair.

Call a Friend

Do you have a trusted friend or relative who never fails to make you smile or laugh? If so, consider calling them and asking them to accompany you to the dentist. Their presence and support can help make you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Distract Yourself

Rather than focusing on your fear of the dentist, do something to help you take your mind off it.

For example, you can bring a good book and read it while you wait for your turn at the dentist’s office. You can also watch something on your phone to help you relax (e.g., animal videos or feel-good shows). Then, once it’s your turn, ask the dentist if it’s alright to listen to music through your earphones as they perform the procedure.

Consider Undergoing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk therapy often used to help with psychological issues like anxiety and depression. So, it may also work for your dental anxiety or fear.

CBT can help you recognize your negative feelings and thoughts towards dentists as hindrances to oral health. Your therapist will help you change how you see and respond to these negativities.

Do Your Best to Sleep Well

Intrusive thoughts that relate to your dental anxiety or fear can affect your sleep. You may have difficulty falling asleep while tossing and turning in bed, stressing about your dental visit. This can

result in you not getting enough ZZZs, which can be especially bad if you must see the dentist the next day.

Poor sleep or sleep deprivation can further affect your emotional functioning. It can exacerbate your negative thoughts and emotions. It may make you feel even more anxious or afraid.

So, if you tend to lose sleep whenever anxiety symptoms hit you, try these tips.

Get Physical

Research suggests that physical activity may help ease or reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. This may be due to how such activities trigger the release of “happy hormones.” And because they also tire you out, your body will likely be ready for sleep.

So, about an hour or two before bedtime, do an aerobic exercise like cycling, running, or brisk walking. This can give your body enough time to wind down.

Take a Nice and Long Hot Shower

A hot shower may help you sleep better by lowering your body’s core temperature. It can also relax your mind and muscles. It may even help with tension headaches, a problem that anxiety can trigger.

All that can help your body get ready for sleep. However, just remember to take your hot shower one to two hours before bedtime. This way, your body’s core temperature has enough time to drop and produce the sleep hormone melatonin.

Ditch the Alcohol

Alcohol, as a central nervous system depressant, slows down brain activity. As a result, it has sedative-like effects that can make you feel sleepy and relaxed.

However, researchers also found a link between alcohol and poor sleep quality and duration. This is especially true in people who consume large amounts of alcohol. Moreover, alcohol may

worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea, a disorder that causes one’s breathing to stop and start repeatedly.

So, instead of reaching out for a bottle of wine, enjoy a cup of herbal or decaffeinated green tea. They can help soothe and calm your nerves without negatively affecting your sleep.

Breathing Exercises and Self-Talk

Before climbing into bed, ensure your bedroom is quiet and dark. The temperature should be comfortable, too. These environmental factors can help you sleep better.

Then, as you lie in bed, do some breathing exercises.

Next, remind yourself that today’s dental technologies and facilities have improved considerably. Thanks to these innovations, many treatments cause little to no sensitivity or pain. You may not even remember them if you go for IV sedation.

Give yourself a pep talk about how your health and quality of life can improve by seeing the dentist. Think of the benefits and good things your dentist can do to enhance your oral health and overall well-being. This can help ease your worries and fears and may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep.

Take Control of Your Fear and Oral Health

Whether mild or severe, fear of the dentist can force you to choose not to go for a dental checkup or treatment. This affects not only your oral health but also your physical and mental health.

So, as early as today, follow the tips we’ve shared to help you take control of your dental anxiety or fear. You can also use many of these strategies whenever you simply feel stressed or anxious.

Are you ready for more informative articles like this? Then check out our other health and wellness guides!

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