How to Conquer Your Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety is quite common. In fact, it affects 36% of the population, and an additional 12% of people experience extreme fear of the dentist. For many people, simply avoiding the things that scare them or make them anxious is a viable option for dealing with their fears and anxieties. For those who fear the dentist, however, avoiding dental care can have serious consequences. 

What Is Dental Anxiety?

Dental anxiety is characterized by anxiety, fear, or stress that is associated with dental care, the dentist, or a dental office. These negative emotions can be triggered by the sights, sounds, smells, or objects associated with a dental care setting such as drills or needles. 

Dental anxiety causes people to feel afraid to visit the dentist. As a result, they often delay or avoid dental treatment altogether. 

Signs and Symptoms of Dental Anxiety

The signs and symptoms of dental anxiety are consistent with those of general anxiety, fear, and stress. People with dental anxiety might experience:

  • Tachycardia (elevated heart rate) or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Crying
  • Visible distress or signs of panic
  • Emotional withdrawal or dissociation
  • Masking anxiety with humor or aggression

Individuals with dental anxiety also routinely miss, avoid, or cancel their dental appointments. They find it difficult to attend their appointments and receive dental care whether the treatments are simple or complex. 

Is Dental Anxiety the Same as Dental Phobia?

Dentophobia or odontophobia are the official terms for severe fear of the dentist or dental treatment. A dental phobia is similar to dental anxiety. However, the symptoms and effects are typically much more intense. A dental phobia is characterized by an irrational and severe fear of the dentist, dental treatments, and/or dental care settings. Dental phobia usually prevents a person from getting professional dental care.

Causes of Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia

It is possible for people to be born with a disposition that predisposes them to experiencing dental anxiety. There are, however, underlying causes and experiences that can result in, increase the risk of, or contribute to dental anxiety or dental phobia. These include:

  • Previous negative or traumatic experience with a dental care or healthcare provider
  • Abuse or other traumatic experiences
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Previous head or neck trauma
  • Agoraphobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Claustrophobia
  • Fear of loss of control
  • A feeling that dental care invades one's personal space

How Dental Anxiety Can Impact Your Health

Feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety can be difficult to manage and have a negative effect on a person's emotional and mental well-being. Experiencing dental anxiety can also impact your physical health if it prevents you from getting the professional dental care you need to stay healthy. 

Unfortunately, many patients with dental anxiety avoid routine dental care which results in the development of more serious oral health problems and the need for more lengthy and invasive treatments, and this can actually worsen their anxiety. 

Skipping routine dental examinations and professional dental cleanings puts patients at an increased risk of developing oral health problems such as tooth decay, cavities, and periodontal disease (gum disease). These conditions not only impact your oral health but also your general health. Periodontal disease is strongly correlated with several systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer, reproductive health problems, and respiratory infections. 

Since dental anxiety often prevents people from sticking to a recommended schedule of professional dental care, dental anxiety puts those who suffer at an increased risk of developing all of these medical conditions. 

8 Strategies for Overcoming Dental Anxiety

Although it can be a challenge, there are several strategies that can help you overcome your dental anxiety in order to access the dental care you need to safeguard your oral health and your general health. 

1. Sedation Dentistry

Sedation dentistry is probably one of the fastest and most effective methods for helping patients with dental anxiety. Sedation dentistry uses different pharmaceuticals to sedate and relax patients during their care. Different medications offer different levels of sedation. These include light sedation with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), moderate conscious sedation with oral sedatives or IV sedation, and complete sedation with general anesthesia. 

2. Communication

If you experience dental anxiety, it's important to communicate your fears and experiences to your dental care team so that they are aware and can better accommodate your needs. Additionally, working out a hand signal with your dental care team to communicate if you need to take a break or pause from treatment is a good way to keep the lines of communication open during treatment. 

3. Non-Treatment Dental Office Visits

Some patients find that visiting the dental office, getting comfortable with the space, and becoming acquainted with the staff without the fear of undergoing examination or treatment can help ease their anxiety during actual dental appointments. 

4. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises draw your focus away from dental treatment to your breath, and this can help calm the nervous system and ease stress and anxiety. 

5. Meditation

Starting a practice of meditation can help you become increasingly self-aware, giving you more power over your emotions and mental responses to the things that cause you to feel anxious in life. 

6. Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones are an excellent strategy for blocking out the sounds of the dental office while simultaneously distracting yourself from treatment by listening to calming music, an audiobook, or a podcast during your dental appointment. 

7. Weighted Blanket

A weighted blanket can help you feel more secure and comfortable in the dental chair by providing warmth and the feeling of a hug that calms your nervous system. 

8. Therapy

Talk therapy and targeted cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist can be effective methods for helping patients understand the source of their dental anxiety and learn to overcome their fears. 

Sedation Dentistry With Our Dentist in Roseville, CA

BB Dental Studio's preventive, restorative, and cosmetic dentist in Roseville understands that dental anxiety and dental phobia can be serious challenges for some patients. That's why we provide compassionate, open, and gentle care tailored to meet each of our patient's unique needs to help them access the dental care they need and create positive experiences in the dental chair. 

Our family dentist in Roseville is always here for our patients, and we love communicating with our patients to learn how we can make their experiences in our office calm, relaxing, and successful. In addition to communicating with our patients and doing everything we can to accommodate their needs, we provide a variety of sedation dentistry options that can help our patients relax before, during, and after their dental appointments. 

To learn more about the sedation dentistry options available to you and determine which type of sedation dentistry would be best for your upcoming treatment, we welcome you to contact our office today. 

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Call (916) 742-6737‬ or request an appointment online to set up your first visit. We’ll be in touch soon.