If you grew up in the 1980s, you may remember the public service announcement about dental care featuring the animated character "Yuck Mouth" scampering around with horrible-looking teeth. Maybe the ad scared you into taking care of your teeth. On the other hand, it may have had the opposite effect and compounded negative associations you already had about dental care.
For many people, childhood dental phobias spill over into adulthood. In fact, up to 15 percent of adults in the United States fear going to the dentist. Translated into a head count, that is over 30 million people. But if you avoid dental care, you put yourself at a higher risk for developing severe infections, gum disease, nerve damage and even tooth loss.
If you have a pressing dental issue that is causing you pain and discomfort, but anxiety sets in at the thought of making a dentist appointment, heed the following tips on overcoming your phobia.
Recruit a Supportive Family Member or Friend
An easy way to increase your comfort level when you step into a dentist's office is to bring an ally. When you set your initial appointment for a consultation, bring someone along who you trust to provide words of comfort and inspiration as you begin your journey to healthier teeth and regular oral care.
Having someone close by as you get examined and treated can help to lower your anxiety. If you feel your teeth are in horrible condition, let your ally know so they can provide you with some reassuring words if you feel embarrassed at the thought of getting a dental exam for the first time in several years.
In addition, remember that, as a result of their extensive education and experience, your dentist has probably seen everything under the sun when it comes to oral health issues.
Talk to Your Dentist About Sedation Options
There are many ways your dentist can help you relax and stay calm during treatment, including using sedation techniques. For some treatments, minimal sedation is standard procedure. You breathe "laughing gas" to help you relax for a procedure. However, if you suffer from severe dental phobia, your dentist may recommend moderate to deep sedation so you can enter a completely relaxed state during your visit.
With moderate sedation, your dentist will provide you with a sedative orally or intravenously. The sedative works quickly and will make you groggy and maybe even sleepy. If you feel relaxed enough, you may even doze off completely. When you wake up, your dental work will be done. Moderate sedation is ideal if knowing what the dentist is doing during your visit will make you nervous or if you have fears of extraction work or needles.
Be aware that if you undergo sedation, the dentist will provide you with very specific instructions on eating and drinking in the hours before your appointment. Make sure to heed those instructions to help your treatment go smoothly.
Join a Support Group
If you find out that you need to have extensive oral health treatments after your initial visit and are afraid of following up with your dentist's recommendations, seek support from others in the same situation.
Believe it or not, there are support groups for people who suffer from dental phobia as well as anxiety and panic attacks. Ask your dentist for a referral for any local support groups. There are also online support groups and forums that you can join to help manage your anxiety.
Even if the support you receive is virtual, it can be helpful. Scientific studies have shown that people with dental anxiety experienced positive results from participating in online groups.
Regardless of the method you use to ease your fears, whether it is opting for moderate sedation or joining a support group, you can take heart that you are working on improving your oral health for the long run. For more about this topic, talk to a dentist specializing in sedation dentistry.