Just like many other types of anxiety, dental anxiety isn’t necessarily within your control. Some people simply experience fear and stress around dental procedures, even ones as simple as routine cleanings. Maybe it’s due to bad experiences from the past, or maybe you’re on medication that increases your anxiety. Maybe you’re not sure why the thought of visiting the dentist strikes fear into your heart and sends you into a cold sweat. But no matter what the cause, your dental anxiety isn’t your fault.
However, that doesn’t mean that people with dental anxiety can’t take steps to improve their experiences and lessen their anxiety. In fact, a combination of self-management and collaboration and communication with your dentist can be the most effective solution to dental anxiety.
Self-Managing Dental Anxiety
There are a few things you can try at home to work on managing your dental anxiety. Here are some exercises you can try that might make your next dental cleaning easier.
The first is a method popularized by a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy operates on the idea that by understanding our thought processes, we can control and change our responses to them.
To implement this idea, you first have to identify the thought that is starting the whole cycle — in this case, probably a thought like “I’m afraid that my dental procedure will be painful.” Then, identify the irrational features of this thought. Do you have any reason to believe the procedure will be painful? If not, there is no reason to allow this fear of pain to govern your dental health decisions.
The second method is pretty simple: Distraction. The way anxiety works is by forcing the mind to dwell on the same thought over and over. You can counter this kind of process by moving your attention elsewhere. For example, you could bring headphones and listen to music during your procedure, or a podcast. If you’re the type to fidget with your hands, it may be helpful to bring a stress ball or something else to occupy your hands. A light distraction like this can help your procedure seem like it’s moving along more quickly, and give you somewhere to direct your nervous energy.
And finally, your dentist can’t help you unless you let them know that you need help! Your dentist may have suggestions for how you can prepare for your procedure or calm yourself during the procedure, and certainly if they know your fears, they have the power to help soothe them. Afraid of pain? Your dentist can tell you what to expect, and make sure you two are on the same page when it comes to anesthesia use. Terrified of how the procedure works? Your dentist can walk you through the process so there are no surprises.
Sedation Dentistry Can Help If You Can’t Self-Manage
And of course, if your dental anxiety is so crippling that you find yourself putting off necessary treatments and procedures, sedation dentistry can get you through the dental care you need with none of the stress.