Dental anxiety in adults remains a common problem, often because the underlying cause has never been addressed. If anxiety is ruining your oral health, there are several strategies to overcome anxiety and start regular dental appointments.
Figure Out the Underlying Issue
Part of overcoming dental anxiety is understanding the exact problem. Some people were traumatized by a bad experience or they might have fears that indirectly relate to the dentist, like fears of needles. Oddly enough, much like fears of doctors, some people are so afraid of receiving bad news, they avoid the dentist, which almost guarantees when they go, there will be problems. Counseling or therapy can be a good resource for dental anxiety because talking through your concerns in a relaxed environment or having someone help you dig deeper into your past with dentists might help. Once you can determine the underlying issue, it will be easier to develop a strategy to treat your anxiety. Some people benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps them develop better thought patterns about the dentist.
Work on Desensitization
The amount of desensitization you need will depend on the extent of your fears. For example, some people have fears of anything dental-related and stopped brushing their teeth decades ago. In such an extreme situation, it may be necessary to work on brushing your teeth just once per week and slowly build up to brushing regularly before sitting in a dentist chair is even an option. Fortunately, most instances of dental anxiety are not this severe and only occur when thinking about going to the dentist or once you sit in the dentist chair.
The first step is having a dental exam. To make the process easier, you may want to visit more than one dental office and see if you can speak with the dentist about your anxiety before making an appointment. Choose the dentist that seems patient and understanding. They should talk about the options they have to address anxiety and make you feel comfortable. You should experience minimal discomfort or not at all during your first appointment. The dentist will only take X-rays and do a manual exam to check for cavities. Once these baseline tasks are done, you and your dentist can develop a treatment plan and discuss how your anxiety will be managed going forward so you can feel less anxious leading up to subsequent appointments.
Think About Alternatives
Many dental procedures have some modifications that can be made to reduce your anxiety and make you more comfortable. For example, you will likely need a cleaning or deep cleaning if you have not been to the dentist for a while. Many dentists use ultrasonic scalers to remove tartar quickly and with less discomfort. When it is time to have tartar removed, ask your dentist if this is an option or find another dental office for the procedure. Since the ultrasonic device does not require scraping to remove tartar, the process is less unnerving if you are sensitive to sounds.
Other alternatives that can help are different types of anesthetic for procedures Many dentists use a topical anesthetic before doing injections. If your dentist does not do this, just ask, since it can reduce the discomfort associated with the numbing injection. Nitrous oxide remains an alternative to traditional numbing injections, but not all dentists may offer this type of sedation. An advantage of using nitrous oxide for procedures is it can be a better option than taking a small dose of short-acting benzodiazepines, since nitrous oxide helps to reduce anxiety and pain simultaneously.
Avoiding the dentist may seem like the best choice, but it can lead to serious and painful problems, such as infections or the need for extensive extractions. Doing your best to overcome your anxiety will improve your oral and overall health.