Yes, dental anxiety is a thing! In fact, it’s a big issue that many adults in North America suffer from. It’s not surprising because visiting the dentist really isn’t all that fun, it costs money, takes time out of your day, and can be painful at times.
Dental anxiety is defined by feelings of stress, fear and anxiety associated with visiting the dentist. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a simple cleaning appointment or a root canal – dental anxiety can crop up at any time. Sometimes, just the thought of drilling, needles, or even just the waiting room can trigger it and it’s not a good feeling at all.
Why is dental anxiety bad?
For starters, dental anxiety causes fear and stress, both of which are very negative emotional states. These feelings or associations towards the dentist mean that patients are reluctant to go to their appointments. As visiting the dentist is necessary for good oral health, anything that gets in the way of making it to the chair is a bad thing – and dental anxiety is a leading cause of avoiding the dentist.
How do you know if you have dental anxiety?
If thinking about the dentist, let alone actually visiting for an appointment makes you nervous, you might be suffering from anxiety. Often, the condition will present itself with symptoms that are much worse, including things like:
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Light-headedness or low blood pressure
- Crying and panic attacks
It can all be very uncomfortable and not fun, which is why many people will avoid going to the dentist.
What causes dental anxiety?
Some people are just anxious by nature, and anything to their body and their health exacerbates the problem. Maybe it’s a previous bad experience or another issue, but there’s no insignificant reason people get anxious before visiting the dentist.
These are some of the most common causes (underlying issues) that can lead to dental anxiety:
- A previous traumatic dental or healthcare experience
- A traumatic experience involving a person’s head or neck area
- General anxiety, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder associated with another condition such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Patients fear losing control
- Difficulty coping with personal space infringements
- Trust issues
Tips for managing dental anxiety you can use to visit the dentist
We know it can be stressful to visit the dentist, but luckily there are some coping mechanisms that really work to alleviate your anxiety. As a good first step, we recommend speaking with your dental office about your anxiety issues. An open discussion will let your professional knowledge about how you feel so they’re able to do everything they can to make you feel safe.
Your dentist can also outline the appointment plan, so you can prepare for what will happen during your appointment. You’d be surprised how much this simple knowledge can help in reducing patient anxiety.
If your anxiety is too overwhelming, your dentist may recommend one of the forms of sedation dentistry to help you make it to and through the appointment. This is usually mild over-the-counter sedative patients should take an hour or two before their visit, but sometimes nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is used to keep patients calm. Speak to your dentist so they can help you.
There are also other methods to manage dental anxiety, which include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Meditation before and during a dental visit
- Listening to music, or watching something on your phone as a distraction
- Muscle relaxation (progressive)
- Weighted blankets
- Sedation medication (oral anxiolytic tablets)
What happens if you let dental anxiety stop you from visiting the dentist?
Visiting the dentist is necessary, not optional. There’s a reason your dentist wants to see you at least twice a year to clean your teeth. Neglected oral health allows bacteria and plaque to run rampant in your mouth. This leads to tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, gingivitis and periodontal disease.
The majority of dental issues are lifestyle related, meaning what you eat or drink, how well you clean your teeth and of course, how regularly you visit the dentist.
You need professional cleanings and dental checkups (sometimes including x-rays) to find problems early on when they are easier to deal with. Wouldn’t you rather sit in the chair for a simple cleaning procedure than a dental implant procedure? It’s not even really a choice.
If you want to have good oral health, you need to make sure you conquer your fear, so you don’t fall into the trap known as the “vicious cycle of dental anxiety”.
Alicia Saxon did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being.