A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Don’t be scared: Overcoming your fear of the dentist

A fear of the dentist prevents many people from getting the proper, routine dental care they need. Oral care is important to your overall health, which means a fear of the dentist shouldn’t hold you back from checkups.

Fortunately, there are tips and tricks to reduce pain or relieve stress while in the dentist’s chair.

Have good communication with your dental team

Because dental anxiety is common, your dental team has experience helping patients with fears of dentist appointments. Let your team know if you’re feeling nervous or have questions.

“We want to encourage our patients to communicate throughout their appointment, whether that’s for clarification or for breaks. If I can see my patient is anxious, I’ll take a break to give them time to process,” said Chelsea Johnson, dental assistant with Family Health Center Menomonie Dental Center.

Young lady with dark hair sitting in dentist chair smiling at the dentist

Oral care is important to your overall health, which means a fear of the dentist shouldn’t hold you back from checkups.

If you’re unsure about a specific instrument, treatment or what’s going to happen next, ask.

“Your dental team can help accommodate your requests and questions and help make sure you are comfortable,” Johnson said.

Different techniques can be used during the appointment to reduce stress

Prior to your appointment, take time to get in the right mindset. Stretches or meditation may help you focus and calm your nerves.

There are options available during your appointment, too.

“Belly breathing is a great technique for reducing blood pressure, your heart rate and stress level,” Johnson said. “Guiding the patient through slow and deep breathing tends to ease patients of all ages.”

Listening to music or to a television show also may help keep your mind off your procedure.

Bring a support person

Whether it’s family, a spouse or a friend, bringing someone with you to an appointment often helps relax patients. A familiar face also may help you feel safer.

“This person also can help the patient stay on task by getting all questions or concerns asked or answered. That support person could be someone to help the patient be accountable and proactive with their health care needs,” Johnson said.

Treatments may be available to relax or relieve pain

Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or sedative medications may help reduce your anxiety for things like cavity fillings, getting a crown or even teeth cleanings. These treatments can be discussed prior to your appointment to meet your specific needs.

“Nitrous oxide is quick-acting and quickly dissipates from the patient’s body. At the end of use, the patient returns to their normal state of awareness,” Johnson said.

If you have fears around injections, a topical anesthetic gel may help.

“Receiving an injection or numbing tends to be what most people perceive as the worst part of the appointment,” Johnson said.

The gel may make getting numbed easier to tolerate. The gel needs adequate time to sit on the gum tissue prior to the injection, but can relieve the stress or pain associated with injections.

Stick to regular visits

Potential concerns can be addressed and prevented if patients keep up with routine dental care. Inadequate levels of oral care and hygiene can lead to cavities, gum disease or infections and may result in larger dental procedures being needed in the future.

“We are here to help our patients. We want them to know they are in control,” Johnson said. “We will help them achieve their dental goals in a way that is agreeable to their timeframe and comfort.”

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