Dental anxiety refers to any feelings of fear, hesitancy, anxiety, or stress in a dental setting. Dental anxiety is said to affect approximately 36% of the population, with a further 12% suffering from extreme dental fear.

A fear of the dentist isn’t uncommon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Dental anxiety can have genuine repercussions on oral health, acting as a serious barrier to dental attendance. This is referred to as dental avoidance and can lead to poor oral health, or in serious cases, the need for specialized dental care.

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

Dental anxiety has a variety of potential causes, including:

  • A previous traumatic dental/healthcare experience
  • Generalized anxiety, depression, or PTSD
  • Personal space issues
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Trust issues
  • Claustrophobia

Dental anxiety can stem from any number of sources, and it can be a real barrier to accessing dental care, with tangible repercussions. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome dental anxiety.

Who Is Affected?

Dental anxiety doesn’t discriminate, meaning that it affects people of all ages from all walks of life. Children who have experienced negative dental experiences in the past can typically overcome their fear if the situation is managed properly and they’re treated with care and support during subsequent dental visits.

Adults who experience dental anxiety can sometimes have a more difficult time overcoming their fears, as the fears tend to be deeper and more long-standing. Not to worry, however, as overcoming dental anxiety is a feat that anybody can accomplish.

Coping with Dental Anxiety

Managing dental fear and anxiety doesn’t have to be daunting. Firstly, be sure to mention your anxieties to your dentist. Dentists are healthcare professionals and they’re no strangers to dental anxiety, so there’s no need to be hesitant. Speaking openly about your fears allows your dentist to help you through the experience and minimize distress.

Those with dental anxiety have a range of triggers. Speak with your dentist about your individual triggers so that you can work together to tailor a treatment plan that’s unique to you! For example, you can work out a system of hand signals with your dentist to communicate any discomfort, so that you can feel more relaxed going into your appointment.

When booking your appointment, select a time that isn’t likely to induce stress. Whether this means it’s a weekend appointment, early in the morning, or whatever time works best for you, ensuring that you won’t be rushed or under pressure can do wonders for overcoming your dental anxiety.

Some common coping techniques can help you during your appointment, including:

  • Deep breathing
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Distraction (such as watching entertainment, or listening to music)
  • Avoiding caffeine prior to a dental visit
  • Guided imagery
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

Other Options to Consider

When simpler coping techniques are ineffective at combating dental anxiety, there are a range of more direct measures that can be taken to help you on your next trip to the dentist.

As anxiety is generally a psychological issue, a referral to a psychologist can be very helpful. Short, targeted therapy techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy have been proven to be very helpful in overcoming dental anxiety.

Severe cases can be managed with the help of medication or sedation to help minimize the effects of dental anxiety. These measures should be discussed with your dentist prior to your appointment, so that you can choose the best course of action for you and your health. Some options include:

  • Relative analgesia, aka “laughing gas”
  • Anxiety-relieving medication
  • Conscious sedation
  • General anesthesia

Some of these more extreme measures typically require both a pre- and post-operative visit to the dentist, though they can help you to manage your dental anxiety so that you continue to look after your oral health.

Acting as temporary solutions, these methods can help you to keep your anxiety at bay while you receive necessary oral healthcare. However, they are not effective long-term without the development of coping methods, to help you genuinely overcome your dental anxiety and minimize the need for medication and sedation in the future.

If you’re feeling concerned by your dental anxiety, please reach out to the team at Escarpment View Dental for help. Our compassionate team is trained to help you overcome your dental anxiety and work alongside you, so that your dental and oral health doesn’t suffer.