Dental Fear: A Challenge We Can Help You Face

Our culture incorporates fear of dentists into its fabric – just think back to how many Saturday morning cartoons use it as a joke! Some adults may remember movies like “The Marathon Man” which preyed on fears of the dentist in the movie’s climax. Despite these fictional examples, many of us fear dentists that even a basic checkup can be stressful.

Fear of dentists is real, but it is surmountable. Luckily, the team at Hickory Dental Care is sensitive to these issues. If you experience fear or anxiety about the dentist, you should know that you’re not alone, that we understand what you’re going through, and that dental fear is a challenge we can help you face. 

What is Dental Fear?

Dental fear includes dental anxiety and dental phobia. While these are both complex issues, we can briefly describe dental anxiety as an unease, worry, or negative emotional response to the dentist or a dental visit. It is a concern, but it generally doesn’t interfere with treatment. Dental phobia, by contrast, is a far more extreme reaction, which may include deep emotional upset, a strong fear response, and even physical symptoms like vomiting.

Both dental anxiety and dental phobia are real but manageable. If you experience them, please communicate that to your dentist and they will take steps to help you manage them while still getting the care you need.

Managing Dental Fear

Now that we understand the difference between dental anxiety and dental phobia, how can we manage them? There are some steps you and your dental care provider can take to make the whole experience less stressful for all involved:

  • Effective communication between the patient and the provider is crucial for addressing dental anxiety. It starts before the procedure begins–for many folks with dental fear, having their dentist explain every step of it ahead of time and then talking them through each step when it takes place can go a long way towards alleviating fear and anxiety around dental care. 
  • Distract yourself. Giving yourself something else to focus on can help make dental fear much more manageable. While in the dentist’s chair, some patients prefer to listen to music or a podcast, while others choose to meditate or pray to stay calm. Talk this over with your dentist and see what they think and what they can do to support you.
  • Establish a signal to indicate when you need a break or need the dentist to stop what they’re doing. It must be discussed well in advance so that you and your dental care provider are on the same page, but a simple prearranged signal as raising your hand can let your dentist know that you need a moment to catch your breath. Again, communication is key!
  • Sedation dentistry can be an option for some patients and some procedures. Your dentist will use a sedative medication of some sort–triazolam, nitrous, and local anesthesia–which will help you stay calm during it. It may not be the right solution for all patients, but it’s worth discussing if you deal with a more extreme version of dental fear.
  • Address the roots of your dental fear. Therapy can help us all with so many things, but a good therapist can help you unpack the root causes of your dental fear and deal with the ways it manifests more effectively. It is a medium to long-term solution, so if dental fear is a chronic issue for you, it may be an option.

Dental fear is a common experience that can affect anyone, regardless of age or background. There is no shame in feeling this way. We’re here to help you have the best possible experience in our office and the best possible outcome with every visit. If you need an exam or cleaning, don’t let dental fear stand in the way. Get in touch today, we will work with you to make your visit as easy as possible.