Afraid of the Dentist? Dealing With Dental Phobia

Author: Jeff Salmeri

There is a cartoon with a dental patient waiting to see the dentist and he is sitting next to the grim Reaper. The caption reads "I'd rather be dead". With over 15 years in the dental field I have heard all the "I'd rathers.." The most popular being "I'd rather be giving birth" (Women) or "I'd rather be audited" (Men). But the interesting part is not so much WHAT is being conveyed in these statements, but in WHO is conveying them. The people making these "I'd rather.. " statements are first timers who have not had a modern dental experience. I used to take it quite personally because the team makes such an effort to ensure our patients comfort. The truth is there is little to no pain in a modern dental office, unless it is brought in by the patient.

Pain is "brought in" to the dental office 2 ways:

1) In the Minds of new patients who have not been to the dentist in years. This is due to fear of the unknown, past non-modern dental experiences, vicarious learning, uncaring and humiliating dentists or a true history of abuse.

2) In the Mouths of new patients who have avoided regular dental care . They are IN pain when they call and subsequently walk into the dental office. The pain becomes associated with the dentist. They are in pain because they have avoided regular dental care. A frustrating catch twenty two for those with dental fears. The pain is not being caused by the dentist. What can be caused by the dentist is the RELIEF of current and future dental pain.

The technology of dentistry has grown exponentially over the last 10 years and unless the pain is brought in by the patient’s minds or mouths, there is rarely any pain involved in a dental visit.

75% of adults in American have some sort of dental fear. *

So how do we move forward to overcome the fear?

FDR famously stated "The only fear is fear itself..." but he went on to say that the unjustified fear paralyzes our needed efforts to "convert retreat into advance" In other words to do what we need to do. **

Here is my recommendation: Ask yourself "Have I personally, truly, had a painful dental experience recently where the pain was caused by the dentist?"

Am I ready to put this irrational fear behind me and be free of it?

Then take action!

If you are not currently in urgent pain:Call around to dental offices (use your insurance as a guide if the COST of dentistry is one of your fears) and shop around for an office where the initial phone conversation with the receptionist is caring, attentive and relaxed. Ask for a no charge consult to meet the dentist and see the office. This is a 10-15 minute chat and tour only. If you feel comfortable, ask the dentist if the assistant can just take some x-rays that day. (There will be a claim to insurance or a charge for this). Then schedule to return for an exam with the dentist.

If you are already in pain, ask for a limited exam and x-ray to look at just the one area that is painful. At the point of a true toothache, the recommended treatment is likely going to involve more then just a filling. You may need a specialist.

After finding an office that you feel comfortable with: talk about what the office offers for patient comfort. Tell them your specific fears: gagging, needles, loss of control, costs, lectures etc.... Make sure they are listening and that you feel they will truly make and effort when you come for your visit.afraid of the dentist

Dental fears come in all levels from anxiety to true phobias. Fear of the unknown, overcoming personal past experiences, obsessing everyday about your teeth or trying NOT to think about your teeth. ***

Modern dental offices offer so many ways to make you comfortable in the dental chair. Neck pillows, ultra comfortable dental chairs, fast acting analgesics (numbs the nerves) nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which causes feelings of relaxation and disassociation, tinted eye shields, blankets, music, TV’s, short wait times and the ability of a friend or family member to sit in the vicinity. Some may even offer foot massages, hot tea and movies!

Always feel in control and raise your hand if you feel uncomfortable during dental treatment or need a break.

Please don't be embarrassed to call. Every week I receive 2-3 phone calls from anxious people who finally have worked up the courage to call. Don't worry about how long it has been, or how bad you think your teeth are. It is our job to make you comfortable and to help you reach a level of dental health that you can be proud of.

COURAGE is not the absence of fear butt he ABILTY to face the fear that is there.

The only way to avoid dental pain is to visit your dentist regularly. Having a relationship with your hygienist and dentist is the key to avoiding dental emergencies.

Now that you are FREE of dental fear, think of all the good things can fill that space in your mind? BECAUSE of your dentist, life just got better.

*Wikipedia "dental fear"
**Phobialist.com
***dentalfearcentral.org
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