Coping with Dental Anxiety
Posted on: July 1, 2021
3 minute read
Do you feel nervous or scared about going to the dentist? You’re not alone. Dentists understand that dental anxiety is common and they can discuss ways to help you keep those feelings at bay, so you can get the care you need.
Read this guide to find out more about dental anxiety, coping strategies and what we can do that might help you through treatment.
When is dental anxiety a problem?
Dental anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders in Australia. It’s normal to feel some anxiety about dental care, some of this fear may relate to a bad experience in the past, or it may have developed for another reason.
Dental anxiety can make regular check-ups uncomfortable, but in severe cases it can lead to people avoiding necessary appointments all together.
As a result, people with high dental fear are more likely to suffer poor oral health and problems such as tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss.
Many of the patients treated at Perth Dental Implant Centre have come in with strong dental fear, not knowing what to expect from treatment. We’ve been able to work together to find ways to manage their feelings and recommend treatments and sedation options to reduce and even overcome dental anxiety.
Talking it through with the dentist is a good first step towards understanding any underlying causes.
What causes dental anxiety?
Dental anxiety may be a general fear of the dental experience or can relate to specific aspects, such as a fear of needles, blood or loss of control.
There is no single cause for dental anxiety. It may develop for many different reasons, including:
- traumatic experiences of dental care or other healthcare
- other traumatic experiences, including abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder
- a history of head or neck trauma
- generalised anxiety or other mental health conditions
It’s not always the case that dental anxiety is caused by bad experiences with dental treatments in the past. You may have anxiety even if you feel positively about dental care, and people may have negative experiences of visiting the dentist without developing anxiety as a result.
Ways to manage dental anxiety
Some people live with dental anxiety and still keep up with their regular dental visits, but it can be a problem if it affects your wellbeing or has a negative impact on your oral health.
Understanding the possible cause of your dental anxiety will help you and your dentist to plan effective strategies to help you overcome it and receive necessary treatment. These may include:
- Talking to your dentist
- Using distraction techniques
- Relaxation exercises
- Dental sedation
Talking to your dentist
Dr Norcross and his team have experience caring for anxious patients and know how to recognise the signs and determine appropriate treatments.
We will help you to feel comfortable discussing your feelings to help manage your anxiety. We encourage all of our patients to inform us of any dental anxiety or phobias when making their appointment, so we can make any preparations needed to tailor your experience.
Some ways that we can help you to feel calm include:
- making sure you know what to expect during every step of the treatment
- answering any questions you may have
- avoiding any triggers during your visits when possible
- arranging a non-verbal signal if you want to stop or take a break, such as raising your hand
Using distraction techniques
One of the simplest ways that many anxious patients find useful for getting through their treatments is to occupy their attention with other activities.
You may not be able to fully take your mind off the treatment, but anxiety may be reduced by:
- listening to music, audiobooks or podcasts on headphones
- watching TV
- using a pillow and blanket
- squeezing a stress ball or occupying your hands with other objects
Some people find physical and mental exercises helpful for calming their anxiety, such as:
- deep breathing exercises to help relax your mind and reduce stress before your appointment
- guided imagery to visualise happy or positive thoughts
- meditation to help clear your thoughts and produce a state of relaxation during your visit
- progressive muscle relaxation, concentrating on releasing tension in your muscles from your head down to your toes
If you would like to feel totally calm during your treatment, we can recommend a suitable choice of sedation and sleep dentistry options. Depending on your individual needs, these may include:
- Local anaesthesia – used as standard in many dental procedures to numb pain in targeted areas of the mouth. You will be awake and fully conscious during the treatment.
- Oral sedation – tablet or liquid sedatives that may be provided around an hour before a procedure to help you feel calm. Your dentist will check your medical history to determine whether you are suitable.
- Intravenous sedation – IV sedation or ‘twilight sedation’ can induce a calm and relaxed state. You will normally remain conscious, but some patients fall asleep. IV sedation is offered at both our practice locations in Kelmscott and East Vic Park and at South Perth Day Surgery.
- General anaesthesia – general anaesthetic may be provided by our qualified anaesthetist to put you to sleep during your treatment.
Changes in dental care over the years
Dental care over the past several decades has seen many changes and vast improvements. Advances in dental equipment, technology and techniques have made for more precise, quicker and less invasive treatment and in turn, more positive patient experiences.
Digital x-rays, diagnostic imaging, intraoral cameras, 3D printing and keyhole surgery are just some of the examples in modern dentistry that have greatly improved patient care.
Dental anaesthesia has also come a long way, as patients can now choose to sleep through dental treatment and are able to recover much faster than before.
These improvements in modern dentistry continue to challenge the stigmas historically associated with going to the dentist, and make it easier for anxious patients to receive the care they need.
Talk to our caring dentists in Perth
If you have dental anxiety or other concerns stopping you from receiving treatment, Dr Norcross at Perth Dental Implant Centre can work with you to help you get the important dental care you need.
We offer a range of sedation options at our Perth practices including oral sedatives, IV sedation and general anaesthesia provided at South Bank Day Surgery.
- Armfield JM, Spencer AJ, Stewart JF. Dental fear in Australia: who’s afraid of the dentist? Aust Dent J. 2006 Mar;51(1):78-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1834-7819.2006.tb00405.x. PMID: 16669482.