Dental anxiety and odontophobia – extreme fear of receiving treatment and dental care – are extremely common and not just for Britons. International surveys conducted before the pandemic reveal that about 50% of us felt anxious when considering a visit to the dentist. However, over the past year this figure has increased significantly. Research by Westfield Health found online research asking “Why am I afraid of the dentist?” increased by 250 percent.
The reluctance to see the dentist is not surprising. You may experience discomfort and one of the main causes of anxiety is the feeling that you cannot easily tell the dentist if this discomfort increases.
Dentists must now take more precautions and impose greater restrictions on visits. This limited the number of dates they can offer so most of us missed our street checks. Unfortunately, this has only made it more likely that you will need treatment, which creates even more fear and apprehension.
As access to dental care becomes progressively easier, it is essential to make an appointment to see your dentist. If you are feeling more anxious about this than usual, what can you do to help yourself?
Start learning to relax today. Recognizing when you are getting tense and knowing how to calm yourself down will help when you see the dentist and in other ways as well, encouraging good sleep, better digestion, and improved mood. Choose the techniques that are right for you – yoga (especially yoga nidra), slow and steady breathing, or a leisurely walk in nature. Practice daily.
When talking to the receptionist, ask her what safety precautions she is taking and what tips she can offer to help you prepare. Ask them to let the dentist know that you are feeling particularly anxious. Good dentists will respond by clearly and calmly explaining each step they take and offering you a “stop signal” – an easy way for you to let them know if the pain is increasing. Some have already taken extra steps to create a calm atmosphere by installing softer lighting, creating a cheerful wall decoration, and providing soothing background music.
When you arrive, expect to see the dentist with more protective gear than usual. If it’s a cold day, bring lots of diapers: Dentists should open the windows to keep the air moving, so it can get cold, which could make you tense. Avoid too much caffeine beforehand, lest you get nervous. Some people like to bring a ball to manipulate or listen to soothing music on their phone while waiting.
Arrive right before your appointment so you don’t leave extra time to worry.
Finally, if you have a partner or a friend, you can ask to accompany you or meet at the surgery and wait outside, you will feel better for the support. Don’t think that’s asking too much – after all, you can offer to do the same for them when it’s their turn.
Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist
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How did you overcome the fear of the dentist? Tell us in the comments section below