• Dr. Erika Endriukaityte

Dental anxiety and phobia



Causes of dental anxiety and phobia


Although it is normal for each of us to feel a little apprehension about seeing the dentist, it is when these fears stop us from seeking help that this becomes a problem. There are many different reasons why someone may develop a dental anxiety or phobia.


Some common fears are:


Pain —  The fear of pain is most common in adults 24 years and older and may be a result of unpleasant childhood experiences in dentistry before many of the advances in “pain-free” dentistry were made. 


Feelings of helplessness and loss of control — Many people feel anxious about situations they can’t control. When they're in the dental chair, they have to stay still and may feel they can't see what's going on or predict what's going to hurt. It's common for people to feel helpless and out of control in such situations and this may trigger anxiety.


Embarrassment — The mouth is an intimate part of the body. People may feel ashamed or embarrassed to have a stranger looking inside, particularly if they're self-conscious about how their teeth look. They fear being judged about the condition of their teeth, Along with this, dental treatments also require physical closeness. During a treatment, the hygienist's or dentist's face may be just a few inches away. This can make people anxious and uncomfortable.


Negative past experiences — Anyone who has had pain or discomfort during previous dental procedures is likely to be more anxious the next time around.


Fear of injections or fear of them not working. Many people are terrified of needles and especially of having them inserted into their mouth. For others, the fear is mainly that the anesthesia hasn’t yet taken effect or the dose was insufficient to eliminate all pain before dental treatment begins. Some people fear the potential side effects of anesthesia such as dizziness, feeling faint or nausea.



How can I overcome dental anxiety or phobia?

The key to coping with dental anxiety is to discuss your fears with your dentist. Once your dentist knows what your fears are, he or she will be better able to work with you to determine the best ways to make you less anxious and more comfortable.


If lack of control is one of your main source of stress, you may ask your dentist to explain what's happening at every stage of the procedure. This way you can mentally prepare for what's to come. Another helpful strategy is to establish a signal -- such as raising your hand -- when you want the dentist to immediately stop. Use this signal whenever you are uncomfortable, need to rinse your mouth, or simply need to catch your breath. Whatever your reason for your anxiety, your dentist can make sure that your emotional health is taken care of. 


A few helpful tips: 

Use these strategies at your next appointment to help ease your anxiety and strengthen your smile. 

1. Speak up 

Anyone with anxiety knows sharing your feelings makes a world of difference. Your dentist and dental team are better able to treat you if they know your needs. 

Tell your dentist about your anxiety, mention it to the receptionist when you come in and remind your dentist of your fears. During your appointment, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes knowing what is going to happen alleviates any fears of the unknown. Let your dentist know by raising your hand if you need to take a break during an exam. If you experience pain even with a local anesthetic, tell your dentist. Some patients get embarrassed about their pain tolerance or don’t want to interrupt a dentist during a procedure. Talk with your dentist about pain before it starts so your dentist knows how to communicate with you and make it more comfortable. 

2. Distract yourself 

Taking your mind off a current situation when you're nervous may seem difficult but is not impossible. There are some things that can help distract your thoughts. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring headphones so you can listen to your favorite music or audiobook. Occupy your hands by squeezing a stress ball or playing with a small handheld object, like a fidget spinner. Imagine your happy place and visualize yourself at a relaxing beach or garden. 

3. Use mindfulness techniques 

Relaxation starts in the mind. Try deep breathing exercises to help relax tension in your muscles. 

Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this five times while you’re waiting for your appointment, or during breaks while you’re sitting in the dental chair. Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes. You can focus on releasing tension starting in your forehead, then your cheeks, your neck and down the rest of your body. 


Never let your fears hold you back. A healthy smile will improve your overall well-being. We are always happy to help and strive to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

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