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A Checklist for Better Managing Dental Anxiety

Some fear about visiting the dentist is normal, right? After all, you’re leaving wide open a sensitive area of your face for someone to poke and prod around in there. Yikes!

But for many, sitting in the dentist’s chair is seriously scary stuff. Dental anxiety can be so overwhelming to some people that they don’t get the oral care needed to stay healthy–dental anxiety causes an estimated 9-20% of Americans to avoid the dentist altogether. Skipping this important checkup can eventually result in dental pain, infection, lost teeth, gum disease, and more.

If getting yourself to the dentist is a serious challenge, try these strategies:

  • You’re anxious…it’s ok. You’re not alone: in fact, over 75% of American adults admit to experiencing some kind of anxiety about visiting the dentist. Common dental fears include a past traumatic experience at a dentist; a fear of needles or other sharp instruments poking around in their mouth; anxiety about feeling helpless lying prone in a chair and unable to talk or respond; and worry that a dental procedure will cause more pain than the initial discomfort you’re looking to address.
  • Remember, your dentist is your ally. It’s important to know that a good dentist is highly skilled in helping his or her patients overcome any anxiety they may experience in the chair. Your dentist may give you more breaks if needed, find the right way to manage pain, see you first thing in the morning if it helps to get the appointment out of the way, give you hand signals to use during treatment, and more.
  • Make sure you have a great dentist to start with! Dental anxiety is very common, so ask for dental practice recommendations from your friends and family. Read reviews of their practice. Pay attention to your dentist’s demeanor and make sure he or she is patient about your fears. If they aren’t, move on. Many dental practices specialize in handling dental anxiety.
  • Speak up. Don’t let your hygienist or dentist begin any procedures before telling them what you’re anxious about. They’ve heard it all! The staff at your dental office are trained professionals–it’s their job to help put you at ease and make you feel as comfortable as possible during your visit.
  • Distract yourself: Sometimes a dental office’s clinical setting can feel stressful for some people. Many practices offer movies for patients shown on portable or ceiling-mounted TV screens to help distract eyes from intimidating-looking machines. The sound of high-pitched drills and loud suction tubes also can unnerve, so consider some earplugs or noise-canceling headphones–or use your earbuds to listen to music. Meditation, visualization techniques, or controlled breathing are other helpful relaxation techniques.

Dental anxiety isn’t something you’ll conquer overnight. But addressing your fears and understanding how to better manage them is important toward ensuring your long-term oral health. At Loudoun Smile Center, we take care to treat dental anxiety with patience and compassion.