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Coping Skills for Facing Dental Fears

We all have something we are afraid of – spiders, the dark, heights – maybe even going to the dentist. Sometimes, you can avoid scary things. You do not like heights? Stay close to the ground. But seeing the dentist is one fear you should not dodge. Here are some things you can do to help you get to the dental office through the appointment:

  • Speak Up. Let the office know that you are anxious. Tell the receptionist when you book the appointment, and tell the staff members when you arrive. And most importantly, tell your dentist. Let him/her know what makes you nervous or if you have had a bad experience in the past. It is especially important to le the dentist know if you have felt pain before. Sometimes patients experience unnecessary pain even though they are embarrassed, but a larger dose of anesthetic at the beginning of the treatment often works better than trying to give more once the treatment starts.
  • Talk to the team about the coping skills that have worked for you in the past and those that you would like to try. Also, ask to start with simple, shorter appointments if possible.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions. Some people worry about what is going to happen before and during the procedure. If you are curious, ask the dentist what the treatment involves or to briefly explain as you go along.
  • Agree on a signal you can give – like raising your hand – if you need to take a break during treatment.
  • Distract yourself. You have a lot of options for distracting yourself to help take your mind off the treatment. Bring head phones and some music or an audio book to listen to. Occupy your hands by squeezing a soft stress ball or playing with a fidget toy. It may sound silly, but go to your happy place. Try imagining yourself someplace else. It might help you escape your surroundings and stay calm. Ask your dentist about other options that might help.
  • Deep breathing brings oxygen into your body helping slow your heart rate and relaxes your muscles. You can practice deep breathing anywhere – on the way to the appointment, in the reception area or in the chair before the treatment begins. There are number of different breathing exercises that may help. For example you can try breathing in deeply while counting slowly to five. Hold your breath for a second then sigh or exhale slowly. Do this for four to five breaths. Deep breathing exercises can even be performed when you’re not facing an appointment. That way, when you have one scheduled, you’ll be better prepared.

These are just a few coping techniques. Work with your dental team to develop a plan that not only gets you in the door, but keeps you coming back for visits on a regular basis. FBN


By Bryan J. Shanahan, DDS

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