How Can I Stop Being Afraid of the Dentist?

15 / 10 / 2019

Do you experience unusual sweating and racing heartbeat while at the dental clinic?

It’s estimated that 13% to 24% of the people around the world experience the same thing whenever they visit the dentist (source). In one study published in Australian Dental Journal as early as 2006, up to 16.1% of the 7,000+ Australian respondents have high dental fear. They might be showing different symptoms such as that same unusual sweating and racing heartbeat. Other symptoms may also include masking the fear and anxiety through humour (i.e. to distract the dentist, themselves and people around them).

It’s a serious problem which jeopardises many people’s oral health. In addition, it’s also possible that they also fear other doctors and medical professionals. As a result, these people with fear of the dentist don’t receive the medical care and attention they need and deserve. Down the road they might then be spending a lot more to restore and maintain their oral and overall health because of early negligence.

It even gets worse because people with dental fear and anxiety might be delaying the visit as much as possible (and go as far as making several excuses to avoid visiting the dentist). Some patients might have last visited the dentist 10 years ago in which then the teeth or gum problem is already in its advanced stages. The early detection and remedy didn’t happen and as a result of the delay, a few teeth should now be extracted or even a surgery is now required because of the loss of supporting tissue and bone in the gums.

How can I stop being afraid of the dentist

Knowing the consequences of the fear makes actually makes patients more fearful. However, dental consequences are inevitable if early signs were neglected to begin with. The fear feeds on itself as the delay gets longer. Whether it’s a needed tooth extraction or a root canal procedure (that often has a bad reputation because of the reported pain), the fear is real and it prevents people from having a big, bright and confident smile.

What should you then to overcome the fear? The straightforward way (and yet doesn’t get applied often in the real world) is to just rip off the band aid fast. It might hurt a bit but it will save you from unnecessary long term agony. However, it’s not that simple because the fear might be rooted into something deeper such as a fearful experience (e.g. something went wrong in the dental procedure or the event was associated with something terrifying and traumatic). Thinking of ripping of the band aid and going straight to business might not help much because the deep-seated force that’s stopping you from going to the dentist is too strong.

In response to this, most dentists now recognise the patients’ fear and these dentists have implemented measures to reduce or work around that fear. For example, dentists have improved their communication and social skills to better relate to their patients. Other dentists have also established a calming presence such as in how their logos, offices and clinics look like and how they move around and say reassuring phrases and sentences. The overall image they now project is something reassuring, calming and inviting.

The patients themselves also have their own tricks up their sleeves. For example, many of them have noticed that fear and anxiety build up while waiting. As a result, they try to arrive only on the exact schedule to avoid the waiting. Or, they listen to soothing music or even watch a funny show through their smartphones to distract themselves.

Embarrassed about your oral health?

Many patients feel the fear because they feel that they have no control of what’s going to happen in the dental chair (i.e. they feel helpless). Or, some of them think that something might go wrong during and after the procedure. Overcoming that fear and those concerns could be reasonably easy if you consult only an experienced and reputable dentist. The dentist would also clearly discuss all the options and potential complications for your peace of mind.

However, being embarrassed about the condition of your teeth and gums is an entirely different concern. It’s another form of fear where you get afraid that someone else will see inside your mouth and will judge you of your negligence. Well, rest assured that the dentists have seen it all including the worst oral conditions. During their studies and professional experience, they have already seen the simplest and most complex dental conditions including multiple missing teeth, advanced forms of gum disease and rotting gum tissue. Dentists are already used to seeing yellow and stained teeth, tartar, blood and pus. Also keep in mind that according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “Australians aged 15 and over have an average of 12.8 decayed, missing or filled teeth” (page last updated on March 2019 at the time of this writing). Dental problems are common and dentists have already seen it all.

Being afraid of the dentist is a serious problem as this fear has already prevented millions around the globe from visiting the nearest dentist. Perhaps they visit the dentist only when they can’t tolerate the pain anymore or it’s all bleeding and alarming. However, it’s always better to visit the dentist early on to avoid the pain and worse inconvenience in the first place. To gain peace of mind about what’s going to happen and what to expect, it’s important to talk to the dentist directly. This way you can ask about your top concerns and the dentist can better explain to you about having a pain-free experience (especially if the dentist uses the latest technologies and procedures).