Not everyone prioritizes twice-a-year trips to their dentist. Though finances and being time-poor can occasionally keep people away, they aren’t the primary reasons people avoid the dentist. The truth is, many people stay away from dentists because of dental anxiety. Their dental anxiety is so high that it ranks right up there with fear of snakes and fear of airplanes. Unfortunately, when people are scared or anxious about seeing the dentist, it can negatively affect their overall health.

The Reasons Behind Dental Anxiety

There are many reasons why people have dental anxiety. Occasionally dental anxiety is caused by mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or a history of head and neck trauma.

Other causes include a previous traumatic dental or healthcare visit, fear of loss of control, or feeling that the mouth is a private space and accessing the mouth is an invasion of that space. Anxiety tied to other mental health conditions such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder can make access to dental care more difficult. Others may experience dental anxiety even though they don’t have reason to.

Symptoms of Dental Anxiety

Those with dental anxiety often experience a number of symptoms when they are at the dentist’s office. These responses can also present themselves even when a person is merely thinking about or anticipating a trip to the dentist. Some common symptoms include:

  • Racing heartbeat or heart palpitations.
  • Sweating.
  • Low blood pressure or syncope (fainting).
  • Crying or other signs of panic or visible distress.
  • The use of humor or jokes to mask anxiety.
  • Signs of aggression.

Patients who suffer dental anxiety routinely miss their appointments, regardless of how simple a procedure that they might need.

6 Coping Tips for Your Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety may be disturbing, but it doesn’t have to disable you and keep you from obtaining proper oral care. If you experience this type of anxiety, one of the most important things you can do is share your concerns with the dentist in advance of your visit. The Tory Hill Dental team is committed to helping patients feel comfortable during their dental visit. We understand dental anxiety and will take the time to help you feel at ease.

We also encourage our patients to consider various coping strategies both during and in advance of their visit. In addition to sharing your concerns with us, we also suggest the following strategies.

1. Bring a friend.

Though we’re limited now due to coronavirus and the need for social distancing, it can be helpful to have a loved one at your side during your dental visit. Having someone with you can be comforting and can help you to feel more relaxed. Be sure to ask us about options right now when visitors are limited.

2. Ask us questions.

We can’t reinforce this enough. We encourage our patients to share their thoughts with us and to be engaged in their oral health. A great way to take your mind off things is to ask questions. Understanding what your dentist is doing and why also helps you see the visit as an ordinary, routine procedure rather than a mysterious and intimidating process. We’re happy to walk you through what we are doing during your exam and why it is crucial to your overall oral health.

3. Allow yourself to take time out.

If you need a break during your appointment, just let us know. Signal us by raising your hand so that we know you need to take a break. We’re more than happy to take a moment until you feel relaxed enough to continue.

4. Practice visualization techniques.

When you are in the dental exam chair, we encourage  you to think of fond memories of happy experiences. The mind is a powerful tool, and redirecting your thoughts to positive experiences can offer distraction—and even make the appointment feel shorter. Share those thoughts with us, and we can help engage you during your exam, allowing you to reminisce about a memorable experience.

5. Practice deep breathing.

In advance of and during your appointment, practice deep-breathing exercises to calm your heart rate and keep your nerves under control. Belly breathing is a great strategy to reduce anxiety. As you will already be lying back in the dental chair, place one hand on your stomach just above your navel, and the other above your chest. Breathe in through your nose and allow your stomach to rise, then exhale through your mouth. Though this is hard to do during certain parts of the dental visit, your dental assistant can ensure you have breaks so that you can allow yourself to relax.

6. Talk to us about sedation dentistry.

If you experience extreme anxiety, sedation dentistry might be a solution for you. For some patients, an oral sedative prescribed in advance of your appointment can help take the edge off. You are still conscious and responsive in these cases, but you won’t have a memory of the procedure after we are done. In more extreme cases, the use of nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas, can promote relaxation.

The Tory Hill dental team can help ease your dental anxiety.

Our team of dental professionals in Buxton, Maine, is ready to partner with you to ease your dental anxiety. Our goal is to provide all of our dental patients with a great patient experience. To schedule your appointment with Dr. Miedema, contact our office at (207) 929-6626 or fill out an online appointment request form. We’ll be happy to chat with you to learn more about your concerns and to partner on the right dental care plan for you.