SINCE graduating as a dentist twenty-six years ago, I always wondered why people are afraid of dentists, or, more specifically, why there is always the fear or anxiety of sitting in a dental chair and being attended to by a dentist.
My logical analysis indicates that people visit the dentist for help, either to be relieved of pain, an unsightly appearance, or to solve a personal dental problem. Why, then, be fearful of that? So I decided to visit a dentist as a patient in the USA to experience it.
Although my visit to a colleague dentist was for a routine checkup, I must admit that I still felt nervous in that chair. So, do not think we dentists, at least this one, never experienced how it feels to visit the dentist.
It has been estimated that nearly 40 per cent of any population exhibit sufficient fear of dental treatment that their oral health has been significantly affected. Of the other 60 per cent, 90 per cent experience some degree of apprehension. Overcoming this prohibition is therefore crucial.
The first thing you can do is realise that your dental fear can be overcome. Fear is a learned behaviour. Therefore, it can be unlearned. Patient-centered behaviour modification treats you as a whole person; not as a set of teeth. And that can help you overcome your fear.
This will, obviously, take a team approach between you and your dentist and his/her staff. Communication is the key: You must feel comfortable expressing your fears and concerns, and have a sense that you are being listened to.
Modern dentistry, with a compassionate dental team, can be truly painless. You can desensitize yourself to your fears if you take the first step and allow the right team to help you overcome your fears.
Here’s a list of other steps you can take to overcome your dental fears:
1. Asking questions
2. Learning how to relax
3. Improving communication with your dentist
Explanation and clarification of any and all procedures proposed is your right as a patient. If you have a question about a particular procedure, ask it! Empower yourself with the knowledge to alleviate fear of the unknown! You should have input into treatment decisions and choices. You should be honest with your dentist regarding how much treatment you think you can tolerate at first.
As you build confidence in yourself and trust in the team that is caring for you, the length of your appointment and the amount of work accomplished will increase. If you feel tense in the chair, the easiest way to relax is through forms of physical relaxation.
A relaxed body promotes a clear and relaxed mind. The human body cannot be physically relaxed and mentally anxious at the same time! The brain won’t process these feelings simultaneously. Physical relaxation methods are easier to accomplish at first, as compared to cognitive ones; so practise forms of physical relaxation first.
Examples of physical relaxation are diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and various methods taught in yoga. There are numerous books and sources for these methods. If you induce relaxation in the presence of stimuli that normally induces your
fears (the dental environment), the fear response will be greatly diminished over multiple exposures, and you will gradually desensitize yourself to these fears as you build confidence.
The memories of traumatic visits will be replaced with more innocuous ones, and this less threatening environment, coupled with your relaxation methods, will help you eliminate your fears.
As you get more comfortable in the dental environment, you can engage in various distraction techniques that many offices have. The use of a Walkman or a Discman is a common technique. Some sophisticated clinics are now equipped with Virtual-reality glasses that provide both visual and auditory distraction by allowing you to view videotapes through these glasses while having dental work done.
We only suggest using distraction techniques, once you have established some trust and confidence, because your ability to communicate will be compromised, although it is easy to stop any of these devices if need to be.
If you have been ridiculed in the past for your behavior, or if you are ashamed of your present dental condition caused by your neglect, please express yourself honestly, and give your present dentist a chance to understand your concerns, and show you that they care.
You will be amazed at the wealth of treatment options that you might not have thought were possible. With modern dentistry, it is never too late to recreate a new smile!
Communicate! Empower yourself with knowledge, and take control of your fears! That’s the key!