It’s not uncommon to avoid situations that cause you feelings of stress and anxiety. When faced with two options, we choose the one that seems safer or easier. However, a fear of the dentist can have a lasting negative effect on your oral health and overall health if you don’t schedule appointments for regular check-ups and cleanings — or ignore symptoms of dental decay or periodontal disease. Such conditions don’t heal on their own. Avoiding treatment can result in advanced decay, infection, and ultimately, tooth loss. Left untreated, a dental infection can spread throughout the body, causing sepsis — a life-threatening medical emergency.
While this grim scenario has perhaps raised your anxiety level, there are tools to help combat dental anxiety and ease the symptoms so you can get the treatment you need to maintain optimum oral health.
Signs and Symptoms of Dental Anxiety
If you’ve ever sat in a waiting room with your hands clenched and clammy, chances are you have felt nervous or anxious before an appointment. You can at least be assured you’re not alone in this experience. According to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine for Colgate, dental anxiety and phobia are extremely common. It is estimated that nine to 15 percent of Americans — or about 30 to 40 million people — avoid seeing the dentist for this reason.
While “dental anxiety” and “phobia” are often used interchangeably, there are notable differences between the two. Healthline defines a phobia as a much stronger form of fear and is known to cause extreme distress and avoidance that interferes with your daily life. In both cases, the reasons for a fear of the dentist may be similar, but a legitimate phobia can take more time and work to overcome.
Dental anxiety is stress or fear associated with a dental setting, its tools, and its objects. Rejuvenated Dentistry recommends being aware of the following symptoms that people with dental anxiety may experience:
- Racing heartbeat (tachycardia).
- Low blood pressure.
- Fainting (syncope).
- An upset stomach.
- Visible distress (crying, panicking).
- Using humor or aggression to mask anxiety.
Causes of Dental Anxiety
Some anxious people will routinely miss or avoid dental appointments and may find it difficult to undergo dental treatment regardless of whether it is simple or complex. Others will go but may dislike the feel and the sounds of the instruments used during cleanings and other procedures. Although in this case, patients experience emotional discomfort, they are able to tolerate the process. There are numerous causes of dental anxiety, according to Better Health Channel:
- A traumatic dental experience or other healthcare experience.
- Previous trauma to the head and/or neck.
- Generalized anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Invasion of space.
- Fear of loss of control.
- Trust issues.
- Other conditions – such as agoraphobia (fear of being in situations where you feel you cannot escape), claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces), or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in which there is an obsession with cleanliness.
Whatever its cause, dental anxiety should not be a source of shame. Recognizing this reaction in yourself, you can cultivate the insight to take steps toward successfully coping with these emotions in order to process them in a constructive, positive manner.
Coping With Dental Anxiety
Dental anxiety is becoming increasingly recognized by the dental profession, making it easier for you to discuss your fears with your dentist. Whatever the cause of your dental anxiety, the right dental team will make sure you are comfortable, heard, and well cared for throughout the course of your appointments, examinations, and treatments.
Our blog post — “Have No Fear! Here’s How To Manage Dental Anxiety.” — features advice from the American Dental Association (ADA), which we’ve incorporated into the experience that our patients can expect at NK Family Dental:
Speak up — Talk to your dentist and dental team about your feelings of anxiety. When you schedule your appointment, let the receptionist know that you’re nervous about dental visits. Remind the dentist and staff about your anxiety when you arrive. Also, tell the dentist if you have a low pain threshold, so the level of local anesthetic can be adjusted accordingly. Agree on a hand signal if you need to take a break during the exam or procedure.
Dr. Nilofer Khan — owner and General Dentist at NK Family Dental — focuses on easing the fears of patients dealing with anxiety. She will talk with you about the exam or procedure you have scheduled, and provide a supportive, calming spa-like environment throughout the treatment.
Distract yourself — The ADA recommends bringing headphones to listen to your favorite music or audiobook. NK Family Dental provides movies with headphones to enjoy during treatment.
Use mindfulness techniques — Deep breathing exercises have been proven to help ease anxiety. The ADA recommends the following techniques:
- Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this five times while you’re waiting for your appointment, or during breaks while in the dental chair.
- Do a “body scan.” Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head, and work your way down to your toes. For example, you can focus on releasing tension starting in your forehead, then your cheeks, neck, and down the rest of your body.
Communication with your dentist is essential in alleviating dental anxiety. Unfortunately, not all dentists are skilled in treating anxious patients. This is why scheduling a consultation is important. When meeting the dentist in person or during a virtual consultation, you’ll be able to tell his or her attitude toward anxious patients. If you get a sense that the dentist is impatient or dismissive of your fears, keep looking!
At NK Family Dental, we strive to provide a calm, reassuring environment that puts every patient at ease. It is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.