According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, “anywhere between 50 and 80% of adults in the United States have some degree of dental anxiety, ranging from mild to severe.”
That means if you’re nervous about going to the dentist, you’re definitely not alone. Here’s everything you need to know about dental anxiety and how to deal with it.
What is dental anxiety?
Simply put, dental anxiety is a specific form of anxiety that some people have in relation to visiting the dentist or addressing their dental health. It usually causes feelings of fear, unease, and general stress. Dental anxiety can be triggered by something as simple as just the thought of going to the dentist or something as major as having to get a complicated dental procedure done.
What causes dental anxiety?
Negative past dental experiences can be major triggers for dental anxiety. This is understandable– if you’ve had a bad experience at the dentist before, it makes sense that you might be nervous about returning. There are others who avoid going to the dentist due to anxiety that’s caused by a fear of needles or even embarrassment about the state of their dental health.
Additionally, dental anxiety can be caused by a person’s perceptions and expectations of pain or discomfort at the dentist. Again, this checks out. If you expect your dental cleaning to be uncomfortable or painful, even if you’ve had a pain-free cleaning in the past, you’re more likely to have anxiety about it beforehand.
Note: If you already deal with general anxiety or depression, you’re more likely to also have dental anxiety.
Why is dental anxiety a problem?
A recent study reports that at least 20% of participants who have dental anxiety do not see a dentist regularly, and up to 15% avoid seeing a dentist altogether. If you go long periods of time without having your teeth examined and cleaned, you run the risk of letting decay and bacteria run rampant, which could lead to serious issues down the line that affect more than just your teeth. Essentially, dental anxiety could be holding you back from maintaining your dental health properly.
Dental anxiety also weighs heavily on your overall mental health. Nobody wants to feel stressed all the time, and worrying about going to the dentist surely doesn’t help at all.
What can you do to combat dental anxiety?
- Visit the dentist regularly. Visiting the dentist for cleanings on a regular basis will actually help your dental anxiety because it will likely cut down on the number and frequency of intensive procedures you’ll need to have done in the long run. If you visit the dentist regularly, your teeth will stay in good shape and you won’t have to worry as much about dealing with painful procedures due to a severe buildup of decay.
- Practice deep breathing. Whenever you’re experiencing dental anxiety, try calming down with a few deep breaths. This will help slow your heart rate and alleviate some of your anxiety, especially if you’re physically at the dentist’s office.
- Distract yourself at the dentist. Try bringing along some music to listen to on your next visit to the dentist. Listening to your own favorite music might help distract you from what the dentist is doing. You can also bring a stress ball or a small fidget toy to keep your mind focused and occupied during your dental visit.
- Prepare yourself for your dental appointment. When you schedule your next visit to the dentist, there’s nothing wrong with asking what the appointment will involve. This will give you an idea of what to expect, which could do wonders to ease your anxiety. Just try your best not to overthink it, though.
- Ask your dentist about anti-anxiety medication. If your dental anxiety is severe and you’ve already tried ways to manage it on your own, you might want to ask your dentist if they can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for you to take before your next appointment. Some dentists also offer conscious sedation like laughing gas to help calm your nerves while your teeth are being examined.
What are the signs of dental phobia?
Dental anxiety is one thing, but dental phobias are different issues entirely. Unlike general dental anxiety, dental phobia causes debilitating panic and terror. According to WebMD, people with dental phobia will likely avoid going to the dentist at all costs. They may even become physically ill at the thought of going to the dentist. If you feel that your dental anxiety has grown into a phobia, we suggest having an honest conversation with your dentist and a mental health professional to discuss treatment options.
If you’re nervous about going to the dentist but know you need to schedule an exam for the sake of your dental health, give Montgomery Dentistry a call today at (334) 279-0760! We’d be more than happy to set up your appointment and ease your mind.