Top 5 Causes of Dental Anxiety and How to Overcome Them

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It’s safe to say that for many of us, the dentist is most likely one of the last people you look forward to hanging out with! You’re far from being alone though, with fear of the dentist actually being so common that it’s estimated that 13 – 24% of people experience it.

Dental fear actually sits on a spectrum, from dental anxiety which is characterised by the fear or stress experienced when visiting the dentist, to dental phobia which is the more severe fear resulting in completely delaying or avoiding the dentist until pain becomes worse than the anxiety.

Dental anxiety or phobia can be caused by a variety of triggers and result in reactions symptoms that differ between each patient, which are important to manage due to the fact that avoiding your dental appointment can have significant effects on your oral health and general wellbeing. 

As dentists, the relationships we build with our patients is equally as important as our technical skill, significantly impacting our ability to make our patients feel safe and comfortable, while having the ability to transform their lives.

Below we’ve come up with a summary of the most common reasons for fearing the dentist and tips to overcome them, so you can stress less and keep your teeth in their best shape!

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Article Summary

  • Signs and symptoms of dental anxiety
  • Why it’s important to overcome dental phobia
  • 5 reasons for fearing the dentist and how to overcome them
  • Other ways to calm nerves before the dentist

Signs and symptoms of dental anxiety

Although each person’s dental anxiety or phobia may manifest in different ways, some of the most common reactions to fear of the dentist can include:

  • Sweating
  • Increased heartbeat or palpitations
  • Low blood pressure or fainting 
  • Distress, crying or panic attacks
  • Withdrawal, or using humour or aggression to mask anxiety
  • Consistently missing dental appointments

Why it’s important to overcome dental phobia

As mentioned, dental phobia often leads to complete avoidance of visiting the dental clinic. The unfortunate consequence of this is further health problems which end up being potentially more stressful, painful and costly than the original visit would have been.

A pattern often begins where avoidance leads to deterioration of a patient’s oral health, which creates further fear, shame or embarrassment, leading to them avoiding visiting the dentist even more than before. Dental disease gets worse, which results in a higher chance of needing emergency dental treatment or more complicated treatment.

By visiting the dentist for your regular 6 monthly check-up and clean, you can more effectively prevent dental diseases and discover any issues early, which can be treated with more simple and minimally invasive dentistry. This is one of the most important dental hygiene practices.

Most of the time, dental problems are caused by lifestyle and are therefore preventable. This is also why it’s important to visit your dentist regularly, in order to learn how to better care for your teeth and get the best dental tips from the pros!

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5 reasons for fearing the dentist and how to overcome them

To overcome your fear of the dentist, you first need to figure out what causes your fear. Here are the main reasons that patients may dread their dental appointment, and a solution for each:

1. Fear of pain

This common fear can be the result of a past painful dental experience, or hearing about the painful experience of others.

Solution: It’s completely understandable that nobody wants to feel pain, and it’s critical to find a dentist that is very considerate of your fear and specialises in taking the time and effort to make you feel as comfortable as possible. It’s important to remember that modern dentistry has also come a long way, with the ability to perform treatments with virtually no pain. Anaesthetic injections take effect quickly, numbing the mouth so you only feel a slight pressure or touching sensation of the dental tools as they’re being used.

Your sensitivity to pain also increases when your body tenses up, so to relax the body, deep breathing and meditation exercises are very effective.

2. Fear of injections or needles

A fear of needles is also very common, especially when they need to be placed in the mouth. For some, it’s the actual feeling of the injection, while for others it’s purely the thought of the needle itself.

Solution: To alleviate the mild sting of the needle, your dentist can use a topical gel to numb the gums before the injection. It’s also comforting to know that anaesthesia needles have become much more thin than they used to be.

Distracting yourself during treatment is also an effective way to get your mind off the needle, so we’d love for you to bring your headphones to listen to your favourite music or podcast during treatment. At Oasis Dental Studio, our Gold Coast dental clinics also offer TVs on the ceilings of our treatment rooms, so you can relax and queue up an episode of your favourite series!

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3. Fear of anaesthetic side effects 

Some patients are worried about the potential side effects that can occur as a result of anaesthesia. This may include feeling dizzy, nauseous or experiencing  numbness of the mouth and lips. These side effects go away quickly, but they can make patients worry about not knowing what to expect.

Solution: Don’t hesitate to voice this fear to your dentist, who can help by walking you through exactly how you may feel at certain stages after you’ve received the anaesthetic.

4. Fear of feeling helpless or out of control

Having to sit still in the dental chair while the dentist provides treatment and not being able to see exactly what’s happening can cause some patients to feel vulnerable due to the uncertainty. This feeling of a loss of control can be the result of previous trauma to the head or neck, or even a history of traumatic experiences such as domestic violence.

Solution: To overcome the sense of being vulnerable or helpless in the dental chair, it may help to know exactly what’s happening at every moment of your procedure. It’s absolutely no trouble to have your dentist explain every part of the treatment, both before and during. 

5. Fear of embarrassment 

Some people may feel self-conscious about the condition of their teeth or breath, especially when the dentist or oral health therapist is very close in their personal space. They may fear that the dentist will judge them for not maintaining their oral health.

Solution: It’s important to find a dentist that makes you feel completely safe, comfortable and understood, as well as remembering that dentists work in people’s mouths every single day, so they’re completely used to any sight or odour in the mouth imaginable! Your dentist is also here to educate you on how to keep your dental health in its best shape between visits.

To make yourself feel a bit more comfortable, Oasis Dental Studio provides teeth brushing stations at our Gold Coast dental clinics with complimentary oral health products for you to freshen up before your appointment (and to take home with you!)

Other ways to calm nerves before the dentist

In addition to the specific tactics above, we’ve also got a few more tips to calm your nerves when visiting the dentist:

  • Speak openly with the dental team about your fear, so they can come up with a completely customised plan for your treatment in order to minimise your anxiety before and during your visit.
  • Take the time to do your research to find a dentist who genuinely respects your feelings and needs and even who specialise in accommodating nervous patients – a good way to do this is to read reviews from other patients
  • Try to arrange a meet and greet with your dentist on a different day to your treatment, to get comfortable with them in a stress-free situation
  • Book your appointment for a time and day that will be the least stressful, for example not right after work when you may feel rushed
  • Minimise caffeine and sugar prior to your appointment
  • Find out if you can bring a support person or comforting object with you to your appointment, such as a blanket
  • Agree on a hand signal with your dentist to alert them if you need a break at any time during your treatment
  • Treat yourself to an enjoyable activity after your visit so you have something to look forward to
  • For severe dental phobia, referral to a psychologist can be recommended with therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy being very beneficial for some patients
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At Oasis Dental Studio, we are able to provide sedation dentistry for especially anxious patients. This is also known as IV (intravenous) sedation or sleep dentistry, and is administered by an anaesthetist in-house at our Broadbeach dental clinic.

This involves receiving anesthetic through a drip placed in the arm or hand, and helps patients relax and enter a dream-like state where they can still fully respond but may not remember the treatment afterwards. Potential side effects can include drowsiness and nausea, so patients will need to have someone to drive them home after twilight anesthesia.

Pairing these strategies for anxiety management with forming a genuine relationship with a dentist that you trust will help alleviate your fears and ensure you feel safe. This means you’ll be much more likely to visit the dentist to maintain your oral health as opposed to only visiting when you’re already in pain or have a problem!

To discuss any of your concerns or to make an appointment at a Gold Coast dental clinic that specialises in treating anxious patients, please feel free to get in touch with our amazing, friendly team:

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