You brush twice a day, floss at least once, and visit the dentist every six months—and yet you’re afraid of going to see your dentist Hunters Hill.
If you’re terrified of dentists (or doctors), it might be due to trauma from early childhood experiences with needles or even bad memories from braces. Some people don’t like feeling vulnerable or violated; others are uncomfortable around sharp objects. Whatever the reason, you can overcome your fear. Get ready for your appointment by doing some homework—and start feeling better about going under the drill!
1 . Do Some Research
If your hands are too clammy or you feel so nauseous that you might throw up, it’s not time to head to the dentist’s office—you’re just not ready. However, it would help if you found out as much as you can about your condition and the treatment available, so it’ll be easier to face the next time you have an appointment. This research will also give you a better understanding of what kind of questions your dentist might ask before he gets started on your teeth. Use the Internet but don’t rely only on what sites say; speak with your dentist or dental hygienist, too.
You should try to learn, for instance, how long each type of procedure typically lasts (a gingivectomy takes five minutes; braces take about two years). And if your fear is related to pain, find out how bad it will hurt (the average injection causes mild discomfort, a filling is a little more uncomfortable, and a root canal hurts the most). Learn about post-op care as well. For example, you should know that many dentists use stitches after invasive procedures to reduce bleeding and swelling. Finally, before your appointment, pack an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as some antiseptic mouthwash—and take these with you so you can immediately relieve any pain.
You should also have an idea of what’s involved in each procedure scheduled—so if your dentist starts talking about a crown or bridge, you won’t be intimidated by the medical jargon.
2 . Create a Support System
You may feel alone, but you probably have some people who can help you get through your fear of going to the dentist. Start by consulting these individuals before your appointment and explain that you need them for support—they may feel honoured or left out otherwise. Then give them a list of what they can do to help: They could drive you to and from the office, distract you in the waiting room with a conversation about another topic (the weather, perhaps), or even hold your hand in the dental chair if it lessens your anxiety. Also, let them know how they can be a listening ear afterwards.
If you feel comfortable talking to your dentist, you might ask him for a referral to a therapist who specializes in helping people overcome their fear of going to the doctor or dentist. In addition, he may recommend seeing someone privately or attending group sessions that focus on the issue.
3 . Practice Relaxation Techniques in Advance
Relaxing is much easier said than done, but it’s essential if you’re about to go in for a root canal or other painful procedure that will take at least an hour. So try using deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization exercises, or meditation. Focus on relaxing each part of your body—including your shoulders, eyes, forehead, jaw muscles, hands, feet, ankles—and imagine yourself somewhere serene (like walking along the beach). With enough practice, you should find that you can relax in a matter of minutes.
4 . Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (or CBT), a treatment designed to change your negative behaviours and thinking patterns, is highly effective for reducing dental fear. If your dentist recommends it, try out several sessions with a therapist who specializes in phobias or anxiety disorders—and take notes about what’s happening during the session. This way, if any bad behaviour starts to emerge when you’re at the dentist, you’ll be able to do something about it immediately. The key is learning how the mind works and automatically generates specific negative thoughts and feelings when we meet a particular situation—like going to the dentist’s office or having our teeth cleaned.
If you’re feeling incredibly nervous, your dentist might recommend nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to ease anxiety and help you relax during an appointment. It won’t make the procedure feel completely painless, but it is highly effective at making people less anxious.
5 . Be Open About Your Fears
It takes courage for anyone to admit that they have a problem with going to the dentist—but this kind of honesty is the only way to make your dentist fully understand how they can best help you. So if you’re anxious, don’t be afraid to let your dentist know — in fact, the more honest and detailed you can be about what’s troubling you (and making you avoid dental appointments), the better they’ll be able to help.
Your dentist will most likely ask how long it’s been since you’ve seen them for regular check-ups; then, they may recommend that you schedule an appointment with a hygienist so that they can clean up any plaque build-up around your gum line before doing any work on your teeth.
If somebody in your family has had bad experiences at the dentists over the years, talk about it in therapy so that they don’t have to feel alone when they visit the dentist. A therapist can also help you process any positive memories of your own so that you can begin to associate going to the dentist with good things—and maybe even find yourself looking forward to the next check-up.
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