In Part I of our series on dental anxiety, we gave an overview of dental anxiety, its root causes, and steps dentists can take to reduce dental anxiety in patients.
To put dental anxiety into context, Peter Milgrom, the director of the Dental Fears Research Clinic at the nearby University of Washington, estimates that 5 to 8 percent of Americans avoid the dentist completely out of fear. A salient 20 percent of the individuals put off routine dental appointments and instead only schedule absolutely necessary dental work.
Odontophobia (the fear of the dentist), as these statistics suggest, is a real problem that a significant number of individuals deal with regularly. If you or a loved one has paralyzing odontophobia, there are luckily a few strategies that can help you to overcome the fear.
The Root Of Dental Anxiety
As we mentioned in our first part of the series, odontophobia is rooted in very real reasons. It’s important to understand where odontophobia is coming from to be able to tackle it from the source.
Common reasons for odontophobia include:
- Fear of pain
- Fear of injections or needles
- Fear of anesthesia
- Loss of control
- Loss of personal space
- Traumatic experiences at the dentist
Strategies For Managing Dental Anxiety
In addition to finding a general dentist in Seattle who knows how to treat patients with odontophobia, there are a few steps that individuals can take as well.
Communicate Openly About Your Fears
We tend to compound and ruminate on our fears when we keep them trapped in our own psyche. Even if you sound like a broken record or you don’t want to belabor someone with your own anxiety, it really helps to voice your fears aloud. You can talk to a supportive partner, a parent, or even a close coworker about your dental anxiety.
We also recommend you speak with your dentist and dental office staff. Chances are these trained professionals will listen to you and offer guidance.
You don’t need to be a yoga guru or an underwater magician to practice breathwork. If you’re unfamiliar with breathwork, you can do a simple Google search of, “breathing for relaxation” or “breathing to reduce anxiety,” and you’ll find a plethora of guided videos and meditations. Meditation apps, such as Headspace, also have specific guided meditations directed toward fear, anxiety, fear of medical appointments, and other relevant scenarios.
Alternate nostril breathing is one of the best forms of breathwork to reduce anxiety. This type of breathing helps to:
- Calm your mind
- Relax your parasympathetic nervous system
- Increase focus
- Balance right and left sides of body
To practice alternate nostril breathing, follow these steps:
- Bring your right hand to your forehead, palm facing in
- Extend your second and third fingers and place them in the center of your forehead
- Start by closing your left nostril with your right ring finger
- Breathe in on a six count
- Exhale out of your left nostril, sealing your right nostril with your thumb
- Alternate each nostril and repeat six to eight times
If you’re a more visual learner, you can find alternate nostril breathing tutorials online.
Avoid High-Sugar Meals
As dentists, we think avoiding high-sugar meals is always a good rule of thumb. It’s incredibly important to avoid sugary food before your dental appointments. That’s because sugar will lead to blood pressure spikes, catalyzing the body’s anxiety response.
For at least a meal or two before your dental appointment, try to eat protein-dense meals that take your body longer to digest.
Be Strategic About Your Appointment
We tend to see the best results when patients with odontophobia schedule appointments first thing in the morning. This way, there’s less time to sit and dread the appointment throughout the day.
You know yourself best, though, so just be sure to schedule a dental appointment time that will minimize your anxiety leading up to it.
First Hill Dental Center in Seattle
If you have avoided the dentist or generally dread dental appointments, our compassionate and knowledgeable team can support you.
Contact First Hill Dental Center in Seattle today to schedule an appointment today!