Are you afraid of the dentist? If so, you are not alone! In studies conducted by the American Association of Endodontists, approximately 80 percent of Americans are afraid of the dentist. And anywhere from five to 10 percent of those people are so afraid that they avoid dental visits altogether.

Dental anxiety is different than dental phobia. In dental phobia you may feel so terrified that you can’t sleep the night before an exam, feel physically sick at the thought of seeing the dentist, or flinch at the thought of a dental instrument coming near you. This is an extreme form of dental fear that most people do not possess. The majority of people who are afraid of the dentist have simple anxiety.

According to the Mayo Clinic, classic symptoms of anxiety are feelings of apprehension, powerlessness, impending danger or doom, an increased heart rate, increased breathing (hyperventilation), sweating, trembling, or feeling weak or tired. Have you ever felt this way before or during a visit to a dentist? Even if most people know there is nothing to be afraid of, why are so many people still scared to go?

I’m afraid it will hurt.

If you or someone you know had a bad dental experience, chances are you have developed some anxiety because of it. Human nature is to avoid pain. Anxiety is your mind’s way of protecting you from a perceived painful experience.

The good news is that dental technology has advanced so rapidly over the past few decades that most dental procedures are now painless or nearly so. Your dentist has many tools at his or her disposal to make you feel comfortable and avoid pain whatsoever. If you aren’t sure what’ is available for your particular need, simply ask.

I hate needles.

Many people have little to no fear of an actual dental cleaning, but instead are afraid the dentist will find an issue requiring a shot. Anxiety rises when they go to have a cavity filled or other dental procedure done. Sometimes there is even a fear that the anesthesia won’t work, or that the dose isn’t strong enough to numb the tooth.

Sedation dentistry is often helpful for this type of anxiety. It can be as simple as taking a Valium (diazepam) or Halcion (triazolam) pill before your visit to help you calm down and breathe easy. There are additional painless options for sedation during your procedure as well, if you want to feel even more at ease.

I feel helpless and out of control.

Feeling out of control is a common anxiety for people flying on airplanes or riding on roller coasters. Some patients feel the same way about a dental visit. It can feel vulnerable and helpless to sit with your mouth wide open, a light shining in, and a stranger looking closely at your teeth.

Just remember that your dentist chose this profession out of a desire to serve, and a lifelong passion to help you maintain good oral health. Your dentist is a partner in your care, which means you two work together. You are both in the driver’s seat.

 I’m embarrassed.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve seen a dentist or if you have crooked teeth or bad breath, you might feel embarrassed to let anyone look closely at your mouth. It can also feel like an invasion of your personal space, both of which can lead to anxiety.

Dental professionals see thousands of people with unique oral health challenges in any given year. Yours is no different. Dentists are not there to judge you for your oral health or to try to intentionally invade your personal space. They simply want to take care of the inside of your mouth, just as an optometrist takes care of your eyes. If you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, always be sure to speak up.

What can I do about anxiety?

The best course of action is to talk to your dentist before a cleaning or procedure if you have any feelings of anxiety or nervousness. Give him or her the opportunity to help put your mind at ease and offer solutions to make you feel more comfortable, rather than skipping the visit altogether.

Forgoing dental treatment means cavities, lost teeth, altered appearance, and more serious afflictions like gum disease (which is linked to heart disease, strokes and diabetes), so it is important that you see your dentist at least twice a year to maintain good oral health. If a dentist is ever unwilling to listen to your concerns, there are many dentists who will. So keep looking until you find one that makes you feel more comfortable. Doing so will help keep your smile, and your overall health, happy.

Written by: Dr. Yahya Mansour

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