A simple routine for some, yet a mountain to climb for others; dentists and dental procedures can affect people in dramatically different ways.
One patient may be raving with excitement on social media about getting new dental implants, whilst someone else may have avoided a simple scale and polish for the last three years, because their last experience in the chair left them feeling distressed and trapped.
Research done by Dentalphobia.uk in 2018 mentions:
‘17% of the UK population suffer from a level of dental phobia, to an extent where they completely avoid the dentist to their own detriment and suffering’
‘53% of the UK population suffers from fear or anxiety when visiting the dentist.’
That's a huge number of people that may be quietly suffering day to day as their dental dilemmas worsen, so I've written this article to get you thinking: to remind you you're not alone, that you do have what it takes to get past your mental blocks, and that a better quality of life is waiting for you - if and when you make the leap.
So let's start with the potential causes of such anxieties.
If you identify exactly what it is about the dentist that triggers the anxiety or phobia, you'll have a better idea of what help you'll need to address your problem. Some key fears are:
Fear of the Dentist
Dentists are commonly associated with being uncaring, and inflicting pain on their patients and demanding a premium for the privilege. Just one negative experience with a dentist can be enough to have long-lasting effects - not just mentally, but physical damage to the teeth as well if a mistake was made.
If you have had a negative personal experience with a dentist, such as coldness or poor service, then the dentist themselves could be a root cause for your phobia.
Fear of Pain
Despite sedation services, anaesthetics, painkillers and numbing, sometimes pain, before during and after a visit to the dentist is unavoidable: larger fillings can be difficult to seal properly and allow hot or cold food direct access to nerves, root canal treatments can cause ongoing pain and sensitivity, difficult removals can cause excruciating bruising and nausea for a week or more afterwards.
Toothache at home can be a trigger in itself; a reminder that you need to go to the dentist to undergo more pain to fix the problem, and then yet more pain afterwards during the recovery process.
If you've been plagued by dental problems and pain in the past, this could be a key reason for your anxieties.
Fear of Choking and Numbness
People who have experienced choking or difficulty breathing in the past may be prone to panic during procedures that require cleaning and suction throughout. You might worry that you will be unable to breathe or swallow during the procedure as the teeth are sprayed with water or pieces of tooth are drilled away, and numbing sensations can worsen this.
Fear of Sounds and Smells
If you've had a previous bad experience with dentists, sounds and smells that are familiar with what you remember from being in the chair can be triggering, such as the sound drills, saws and certain chemical scents.
Fear of Needles
You might be afraid of both the needle poking into your gums especially if you have existing gum pain or sensitivity, as well as dreading the sensation of being numbed
Maybe you only have one particular cause of anxiety, or perhaps you have all or several of the above. Speaking to a therapist who specialises in phobias might help you discover the best course of action.
It's important to know if it's the best option for you to power through your visits with sedation or coping mechanisms, or if there's something far deeper at play, which you'd need to get to the bottom of.
There should be no shame in anxieties or phobias getting the better of you, and as it's a problem that affects such a large portion of the UK, so now we've established possible causes for your anxieties, lets go over some ideas to manage the burden that dental phobias can put on your shoulders.
Open up the conversation
If you tell your dentist, nurse or receptionist that you’re afraid, it allows the practice staff to accommodate your needs, and responsible staff members that are aware of your circumstances can adjust their attitudes and routines to make you feel more at ease.
Maybe they’ll let you look around the practice to get used to your surroundings, let you listen to some music during a procedure, or explain treatments in a way that settles your nerves.
This also means they can prepare for more practical solutions too, such as suggesting or referring you to a sedation service, which comes up later.
Do your homework
There is a wealth of patient testimonials available online, on sites such as Youtube, social media such as Instagram or Facebook, or even better - on the website that’s specific to your practice (whether that's Smart Dental Care or elsewhere).
It can help to know that someone sat in the very same chair as you, went through the same procedure with the same dentist, and came out the other side with a glowing recommendation of their experience at the end.
Things can go wrong occasionally, but be mindful; it doesn’t benefit your dental or mental wellness to listen to horror stories of obscure, unlikely situations or freak-accidents; your dentist will be sure to let you know about any risks with specific treatments and medications themselves.
If doing your homework is too harsh a trigger, and you’re unable to watch videos or see images because of the distress, this could point towards a deeper, more debilitating phobia.
Whilst you can avoid triggers for phobias of heights or snakes quite easily with low impact to your day-to-day life, a phobia tied to something as important as dentistry will directly impact your oral health and hygiene over time, so seeking professional assistance and therapies can safeguard your teeth from future neglect.
Coping Mechanisms and Distraction Techniques
As mentioned above, a dentist playing music whilst they perform a dental procedure could be one way of helping you to cope with a stressful visit by distracting you from your current stressors. Another means to distract and help you cope could be to have a partner, friend or family member sit next to you to provide support during a procedure too. However, it might not be the best idea to bring along someone who shares your anxieties or phobias.
Something to occupy your hands such as a stress ball or fidget spinner might work for you too, as long as it's not getting in the dentist's way. Something to mentally take you out of the chair for a little while.
There are a number of things that perhaps you haven't thought of or wouldn't expect to work for you, and if you open up the conversation with your dentist you can find out what kind of distraction techniques are within their means to provide and cater to or techniques other patients have used before.
Anaesthetic and Sedation services
Local anaesthetic is administered with a needle into the area of the mouth you’ll be having treatment, numbing the area and allowing painless fillings, root treatments and extractions. Needles can come with their own triggers and phobias, so it might be helpful to first have the conscious sedation before the numbing injections.
General anaesthetic is stronger than a local one and results in unconsciousness throughout the dental procedure. This is only provided in hospital surgeries with a professional anaesthetist, using either an I.V (tubes into the veins) or gas inhalation. You would be required to arrange for a friend or family member to escort you from the hospital when you are discharged due to the after-effects.
Sedation is a less invasive alternative to a general anaesthetic, and is safe to do in the dental practice (if the practice offers the service), with a shorter recovery time afterwards.
Once sedated using either gas or an I.V, you’ll be in a more relaxed and conscious state, ready for the local anaesthetic injections and procedure, whilst still able to communicate to your dentist if necessary.
A short-term solution to a long-lasting problem, sedation services are specifically for nervous and phobic patients, and may be just enough to get you through a worrying procedure, so even if the fear remains afterwards, you can at least sit through a crucial procedure if you ever find yourself in need.
Learn more about yourself
A (hopefully) long term solution, for when you have the time and money and aren’t in immediate need of dental work - you could choose to see a therapist to work through your mental blocks and reduce your fear of the dentist.
It’ll take time and hard work, but coping mechanisms, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or even just picking apart the problem over a few sessions with someone who is trained to help people in similar situations, may be just what you need to lift the weight - at least partially.
Try to approach a meeting with a therapist as a discussion instead of an interrogation; you’re there to learn more about yourself - whether the answers come from inside after hearing just what you needed to hear, or from someone else who’s trained to notice trends and patterns in the human mind.
Perhaps there’s a tactic that worked for someone else which might just work for you too. You won’t know until you try. It might help to see others having positive experiences with dentists, so feel free to keep up to date with Smart Dental Care by following us on our social channels linked at the top of this article.
Start slow - any small amount of progress is still moving forward towards a better quality of life. And when you're ready, book online today or call us on 01618203477 to schedule your appointment with one of our dentists.