Anxiety about going to the dentist is much more common than you might think. Most people don’t exactly look forward to visiting the dentist, but will weather the inconvenience for the sake of dental healthcare.
However, for some people a trip to the dentist can cause a swell of anxiety. Dental anxiety is actually quite common. Around 20–25% of people fear the dentist and as many as 1 in 10 suffer extreme dental phobia and avoid the dentist altogether.
Regular trips to the dentist are important, not only to ensure oral health, but also to prevent other more serious health conditions. Poor dental healthcare can affect your overall health in a number of ways. Gum disease, bacteria and inflammation can impact cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, diabetic complications and even dementia.
As you can see, visiting the dentist regularly is about much more than a pearly white smile. Dental care is an important aspect of general healthcare. To take the stress out of a visit to the dentist, follow our 7 easy steps.
1. Choose an understanding dentist
Rapport with your dentist is vitally important. A dentist who understands your fears and puts you at ease is essential. A dentist who offers special care for nervous patients will do their best to help you relax, will explain everything they do as they go along and give you clear instructions on what to do if you want them to stop during any treatment. They may also be able to offer sedation to help you relax during dental treatment. Recommendations are usually a good idea. Ask friends and family if they have a dentist they like and trust.
2. Listen to music
It’s often the sound of the drill at the dentist that puts people on edge. Listen to music on your headphones while sitting in the waiting area, so you can’t hear the sounds of the dental equipment. Most dentists won’t mind if you listen to your music during treatment as well. Listening to music can be incredibly relaxing and is known to reduce stress. Slow, quiet, classical music, for example, has been shown to have a beneficial effect on pulse and heart rate.
3. Request an initial meet-only appointment
Ask your dentist if you can start with an appointment without treatment to meet them and acclimatise yourself to the sights and sounds of the practice. It’s also a good way to see if you like your dentist. Many people find that meeting their dentist before starting treatment helps to ease anxiety.
4. Ask for an early appointment
It may not seem obvious, but if you have an appointment for treatment first thing in the morning, you have less time to dwell on it than if you choose an appointment towards the end of the day.
5. Try mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more aware of the present moment. It enables us to become more in touch with our thoughts and feelings, and helps us to notice the signs of stress and anxiety, such as physical sensations in the body. When we are more aware, we notice the signs of stress earlier and can deal with them better.
Meditation also has known benefits in reducing stress and anxiety. Here is a guided meditation to try before you visit the dentist. Or for a more general guide to meditation, Headspace is a good place to start. Calming breathing can also help to reduce stress prior to and during a visit to the dentist. For tips on technique, see here.
6. Avoid caffeine and sugary foods
Prior to an appointment with your dentist, avoid high sugar foods and caffeine (such as fizzy drinks, tea or coffee) as these will make you feel more jittery. Instead, try drinking a cup of chamomile tea and ensure you eat a healthy breakfast. Mindlab Academy showed that people who take proper breakfast show 89% less anxiety and stress than those who don’t.
7. Don’t go alone
Bring a friend or family member with you to the dentist. Having someone with you who you are comfortable with can help to ease nerves and act as a distraction.
Follow these 7 tips for a stress-free trip to the dentist. If you suffer from extreme dental phobia, speak with your dentist about sedation options.
Wendy Whitehead worked as a teaching assistant at two special needs schools in London before embarking on a different career as a marketing consultant.
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