How to Cope With Anxiety When Going for a Dental Exam

dental anxiety dental phobia

You would like to see your teeth in the best condition. You want to show people that you’ve got a great smile with a good set of healthy white teeth to match. However, you soon realize that you need to visit your dentist for a much needed dental checkup. But if there is an exam that you don’t want to go to it’s definitely a dental exam. Sound familiar?

If you dread going for a routine visit to the dentist you may have dental anxiety. If this is the first time you are hearing about this term you may need to learn more. Getting more information about this condition will help you conquer your dental anxiety in the long run.  

Signs and Symptoms of Dental Anxiety

If you have dental anxiety you may experience some of these signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive sweating especially when you think about sitting on the dental chair and feeling terrified of what comes next
  • Palpitations where your heart beats more than normal
  • Signs of panic and distress such as heavy breathing and excessive crying
  • Social withdrawal

It is normal for individuals with dental anxiety to miss routine dental appointments. In fact, you may be surprised at the lengths people will go to avoid routine treatments such as oral prophylaxis (a professional dental cleaning), fluoride varnish treatment (a common process to prevent tooth decay) or even a simple prophy paste application to make their teeth cleaner and smoother.

If anxiety prevents you from seeking dental treatment there are ways for you to cope before and during a dental exam. The more you know about what dental examinations involve, the better you will cope with your next trip to the dentist.

Psychology and Dental Fear

Dental anxiety can affect people of any age. Children who have previous bad experiences can overcome their fear if it is managed in a healthy way. Support from your dentist during dental visits will help children conquer their anxious thoughts. It is different with adults though, because if they usually skip their dental appointment they may remain anxious throughout their life.

Fear can make you feel more tense than usual. It can also reduce your ability to handle pain. People with dental anxiety may require more anesthesia and pain treatments before the dentist proceeds with the procedure. They may suffer from headaches or feel stiffness in their neck or back.

Dental Phobia Help

While dental anxiety is relatively common, having a dental phobia is less common. Dental phobia is something that a mental health professional can help you with because it is not just a simple case of uneasiness. The truth is most dental procedures such as having prophy paste or fluoride varnish applied to your teeth are not painful. Nevertheless, people with a dental phobia may feel stressed out even after the dentist explains the procedure.

Most people will have some anxiety about dental exams. However, for those who have dental phobia, the fear gets magnified a thousand times over. Dental phobia is usually intense and unrealistic. People with dental phobia will often associate everyday objects or situations with the strong fear they feel during a dental exam.

How far will people with a dental phobia go to avoid dental exams? They may put off treatments for serious gum infections and even bear broken or unsightly teeth. This explains why people with dental phobia will likely suffer from poor dental health and tooth loss. Sadly, poor oral health has been linked to other health complications such as lung infections and heart disease.  

Methods for Managing Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia

There are many ways of managing dental anxiety and dental phobia. The first step is to let your dentist know what you are feeling. He can help you identify the extent of your anxiety. You can also try these coping techniques to assist you in your journey to conquer your fears.

  • Take deep breaths

Try to inhale and exhale slowly as you take deep breaths. Do this while you are waiting for your dental exam or during breaks while you sit on the dental chair.

  • Meditate

If you perceive a threat or your body is subject to a sudden stress, your body may elicit the “fight or flight” response. Your blood pressure and pulse rate start to increase and you breathe faster. During meditation, you apply relaxation techniques to help reduce these effects. Meditating for about 10 minutes a day can help you control stress associated with dental anxiety.

How can you get the most out of meditation? Close your eyes and reflect on things that make you relax. It may be best to do this in a quiet place where there are no distractions. Sitting up instead of lying may help you to avoid falling to sleep. Some people report that prayer during mediation also helps them to let go of worrying thoughts.

  • Listen to relaxing music

Music is powerful. For proof, just think of how good you feel when you listen to your favorite songs. Listening to songs that you associate with pleasant feelings will lessen your levels of stress. Listening to music with a slower tempo may also help to quiet your mind and relax your muscles.

You can also listen to soothing music prior to dental procedures such as prophy paste or fluoride varnish application. You may be surprised at how relaxed you feel during and after your dental exam.

  • Watch something interesting on TV

Some dental clinics install television sets so that patients can be pleasantly distracted as they watch their favorite show.  When your eyes are looking at the screen and your mind is focused on your show, you are less likely to focus on your upcoming dental procedure.

  • Choose a low-stress appointment time

Find the most convenient time for you to have your dental appointment. You will feel less stressed out if you are not in a hurry to get to your dental exam. Being at the dentist clinic a few minutes before your appointment will give you time to relax. You will also have sufficient time to do breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques mentioned above.

The Bottom Line

Some people may find it funny that certain individuals experience dental anxiety. However, feeling anxious about dental treatment is normal.  The tips given above will help you to cope with anxiety and go for your prophy paste or fluoride varnish treatment with confidence. However, if your anxiety is intense and chronic, it may be best to seek assistance from a licensed therapist at BetterHelp.