Smiling in the face of fear
July 14, 2010
No one loves going to the dentist. A check up appointment is never met with joyous enthusiasm but while most of us don’t rush there with a happy heart we know it has to be. For some people though, a visit to the dentist is something to truly dread, and this strong, irrational fear can lead to extreme nerves, panic attacks and a total avoidance of the dental chair.
Approximately 5% of the population avoid the dentist because of this extreme fear and almost inevitably this leads to long dental health problems. Dentists recognise three levels of patient apprehension – anxiety, fear and phobia. Many people will confess to having a general dental anxiety, but it won’t stop them booking their regular appointments. Those who fear the dentist will have a harder time making themselves go and may need extra help if treatment is required. Dental phobic’s experience crippling fear that is likely to see them avoiding dental treatment for so long they face serious problems with your teeth.
So what causes this common fear? Obviously bad past experiences with dentists are likely to put us off going the next time; but it’s also the fear of the unknown. We can’t see what’s going on, we’re uncomfortable in the chair, we don’t understand what the dentist is muttering to his assistant and we feel like people are judging us. Pain of course is a big fear trigger and even the pain killing injections can hurt! For many, it starts off with a missed check up or two; fear starts to kick in when we feel guilty about not going, or worry about what treatment might now be needed.
Barry, a sales manager from Solihull talks about how his dental phobia grew because of missed check up appointments: “I’d stopped my dental insurance because of rising costs and started missing check up appointments; before too long I realised I needed serious dental work, but the more I didn’t go the more the fear built up. I was worried about the cost and the embarrassment I knew I’d feel when the dentist looked at my teeth. I work in sales so smiling and feeling positive is a must, my missing teeth caused me to perfect a closed mouth smile. I knew I had to do something but just couldn’t overcome my fear.”
Luckily Barry’s partner spotted an article for an overseas dental service and they booked an appointment for a consultation in London. “I nearly ducked out of the appointment but their treatment plan was so thorough and easy to understand I steeled my nerves and flew to Budapest. I was terrified but the dentist understood my request for a general anaesthetic and it was all no problem. The second visit was so much easier after that and now I have an amazing smile again.”
Phobias can start young and carry on throughout life with potentially serious consequences. Charlotte, a beauty blogger (www.ladyofthelane.com) traces her dental phobia back to an operation she had as a young child. Years later the experience left her terrified of all things medical including the dentist. Childhood injections and simple check ups carried very real anxieties for her. After a sympathetic doctor listened to her fears she was able to get some help, but her phobia of dentists remains. “For me the phobia stems from the unknown, plus the basic fact that going to the dentist does often hurt. I have found a new and very gentle dentist who has really helped me but I still dread every appointment and live in fear of something serious like a root canal.” Explains Charlotte.
We’ve talked to lots of dentists and dental phobic’s to come up with some top tips to help you smile in the face of fear…..
- Talk about it….to your friends and most importantly your dentist. Talking about your fears will help straightway because you’ll be relieved you’ve shared the burden, plus your dentist may have practical solutions to suggest. If talking to the dentist worries you too much start by asking the receptionist what she knows the dentist can do to help
- Break the chain of phobia – try a new dentist if you can find one, or if you need major treatment consider going abroad where private dentistry is less expensive.
- Ask your dentist to be more communicative. At the beginning he should explain what will happen in the appointment and get him to keep talking to you throughout the whole session
- Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and acupuncture. More serious cases of phobias should try Cognitive Based Therapies which can be accessed via your doctor.
- Take a friend and ask them to distract you before and during the appointment with some light hearted chatter
- Sedation can be very helpful for treatment, ask your dentist about what they offer in the practice.
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