How To Deal With Dental Anxiety

Would it surprise you to know that 30-40 million Americans suffer from dental anxiety and dental phobia?

According to the Colgate Oral Care Center, “there are varying degrees of dental anxiety and phobia. At the extreme, a person with dental phobia may never see a dentist. Others may force themselves to go, but they may not sleep the night before. It’s not uncommon for people to feel sick — or, in some cases, to actually get sick — while they’re in the waiting room.”

At Concorde, part of our dental assistant programs is to help students identify signs of uneasiness and empower them to allow patients to feel comfortable, and in control, during their appointments.

What contributes to dental anxiety?

Long gaps in professional and home dental care – Teeth, particularly one’s smile, is one of things that we’re most self-conscious about when it comes to our appearance. When dental health professionals get down to business, some experience a wave of worry as to whether they’ll be judged on how their teeth look, how well they’ve kept up with home care or the possibility of a poorer report compared to their last visit.

Not knowing what’s going on or coming – Ellen Rodino, PhD, a psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif., who has studied dental fear, talked about this in a recent article by WedMD. “You’re lying prone, a dentist is hovering above you, and he’s putting you in a situation where you can hardly talk or respond. That creates a lot of anxiety for some people because they don’t feel in control,” she said.

Negative past experiences – As students in our dental assistant programs learn, some phobias are rooted in past experiences that dictate our present feelings. For more individuals that suffer from dental anxiety, a procedure gone wrong as a child or particularly invasive visit can trigger reoccurring feelings of dread.

Is it treatable?

Some dentists go out of their way to create a nonthreatening environment. In fact, a lot of dentists decorate their offices to the extent that they don’t look like dentist offices at all. Many dentist offices have cozy fireplaces and soothing photography on the walls. Some even have waterfalls!

One of the best methods for easing fear and anxiety, according to a recent article in WebMD, is to make certain the patient feels as if he or she is in total control.

“I tell them they can leave anytime they want,” Jack Bynes, DMD, who works in Coventry, Conn., said in the WebMD article. “Only one has done it in 40 years. It’s so they know they have control.”

Other methods dentists use include:

  • They gently explain what the patient will soon feel, and for about how long
  • They frequently ask the patient for permission to continue
  • They give the patient the opportunity to stop the procedure at any time the patient feels uncomfortable (“I give them a cue,” Bynes said. “If for any reason they need to stop, raise your left hand.”)
  • They make time for breaks as requested.

Bynes went on to say that being honest with the dentist about your fears up front makes dealing with them that much easier at the time of a procedure. Open communication is always the best way at dealing with such issues, which also is a big component of our dental assistant programs.

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