Dental Phobia: Signs You Might Be Suffering From It, and Tips For Coping With It


Maintaining good oral health goes beyond daily brushing and flossing. Visiting your dentist every six months for a check-up and professional cleaning is key. Yet, millions of Americans avoid the dentist altogether, due to a paralyzing fear known as dental phobia. Having some anxiety about visiting the dentist is common, but dental phobia goes beyond a bit of nervousness. Could you be suffering from dental phobia? Learn the signs below:

  • Insomnia. If you have trouble sleeping in the days-- or even weeks-- leading up to a dental appointment, you might be suffering from dental phobia.
  • Avoidance. If you've avoided going to the dentist for years, you're likely suffering from dental phobia.
  • Feeling physically ill. Sometimes extreme anxiety manifests itself with physical symptoms, like nausea and headaches.
  • Panic. If you feel panicked and unable to breathe when dental instruments are placed in your mouth, you might be suffering from dental phobia.

Now that you know how to recognize the signs of dental phobia, how can you cope with it? Avoiding the dentist entirely is not a healthy coping strategy; after all, minor dental problems can become major concerns if not treated in a timely manner. Instead, consider the following coping techniques:

    Communication. Some patients try to hide their phobia from their dentists. This is never a good idea. It's important to be open with your dentist from the beginning. Discuss your specific fears (are you afraid of pain? Having dental tools placed in your mouth?). Remember: dental phobia is extremely common, so don't worry about sounding silly. Being honest with your dentist upfront allows you the opportunity to work together to determine the best way to handle your anxiety.

    Know what to expect. For many people who suffer from dental phobia, the anxiety stems from feeling a loss of control. To help combat this feeling, consider asking your dentist to let you know what to expect during your procedure. Have him relay the procedure to you step by step so nothing comes as a surprise.

    Come up with a sign. Work with your dentist in advance to come up with a simple sign that will indicate to your dentist that you need a break during the procedure. Since you likely won't be able to talk, an easy gesture like raising an arm or touching your nose can signal to your dentist that it's time to take a break.

    Be mindful of your breathing. Many fearful patients get so worked up during dental appointments that they forget to focus on their breathing. Taking slow, deep breaths through the nose can help you to remain calm during a procedure.

    Bring some relaxing music. Sometimes it's helpful just to tune out all of the sounds around you during a procedure. Consider bringing along some headphones and your favorite relaxing music, or perhaps even a book on tape. This will help provide a distraction and give you something to focus on other than what's going on inside your mouth.

    Use guided imagery. This simple relaxation technique can be extremely effective for fearful patients. Imagine yourself in your favorite, relaxing setting. Think carefully about all of the details of the setting, from the scenery to the temperature. Focusing on the small details while creating your image is often calming for patients.

Remember: dental phobia is extremely common and nothing to be ashamed of. However, it's important not to use your fear as a reason to avoid the dentist. Instead, the key is to find a dentist you feel comfortable with and then implement the above coping techniques. For more information and to learn how we can help you, please contact us today.

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