Staying Calm at the Dentist
If you feel nervous about visiting the dentist, you're not alone. As many as 1 in 6 Australian adults and 1 in 10 children have some form of dental anxiety, with 1 in 20 people having more severe dental phobia.
Most dental problems can be prevented, and regular check-ups with your dentist are an important part of preventive care.
Oral health assessments give your dentist the chance to spot signs of tooth decay, gum disease and other possible problems before they get more serious, which could mean you avoid discomfort and more intensive corrective treatment in the future.
Professional teeth cleaning and hygiene treatments also help to protect your teeth from plaque and can lower your risk of developing dental disease.
If you need some help to manage your dental fear and give your teeth and gums the care they deserve, consider some of these strategies recommended by the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health.
Talk to your dentist
Dentists understand that many people feel nervous about their appointments. Letting your dentist know about your anxiety means they can tailor your visit to help you feel more calm. They should explain exactly what's going to happen at every stage to avoid surprises and make sure you know your options. It's important to find a dentist you feel comfortable with and feel you can trust.
If you're worried that you won't be able to communicate with your dentist during your treatment, you can agree on a non-vocal signal such as a raised hand to alert your dentist or hygienist to stop or take a break. This can help you to feel in control of the situation.
Most modern dental surgeries have televisions that patients can watch during their treatment to focus their attention elsewhere. Talk to your dental clinic beforehand to find out if you can request certain movies, TV shows or music that helps you to feel calm, or if you can bring your own music to play using headphones.
Some anxious patients find that breathing exercises help them to relax and feel calm. Slow and steady breathing for 2 to 4 minutes can lower the heart rate and promote relaxation. Staff at your dental clinic may be able to demonstrate these exercises to practise ahead of your visit, or you can find video demonstrations online of exercises that you feel comfortable with.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This technique takes more time to master, but can help some people to feel more calm. Relaxation exercises involve tensing and relaxing individual muscles for a few seconds at a time. This should be practised once or twice a day for 1 to 2 weeks before your dental visit.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
If your dental anxiety is more severe and can't be managed through other techniques, your dentist may refer you to a psychologist for help. Targeted courses of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are helpful for many people, but this depends on the individual.