Following on from our “What is Dental Anxiety and Fear?” blog, here we focus on real strategies that you can use during your next dental appointment to manage your dental anxiety.
How Do I Conquer This Fear?
Firstly, find out what’s making you feel this way at the dentist. What are the triggers? There is no one size fits all approach to managing dental anxiety so it’s important to know what makes you feel anxious as this will allow your dentist to formulate an appropriate plan.
In general, anxious patients can be categorised into 4 different groups based on their source of fear:
- Anxious of Dental Stimuli. For example, anxiety can be provoked by triggers such as sights of needles and drills, sounds of drilling, the smell of latex gloves, and also the sensations of high-frequency vibrations in the dental setting.
- Distrust of Dental Personnel. When you don’t have confidence and trust in your dentist, it’s easy to develop a fear of the “unknown”. You’re more likely to fear judgement and lack of care from your dentist. Even just being in a vulnerable position of lying back in the dental chair can evoke feelings of uneasiness. Then of course there’s distrust in the diagnosis presented, especially if it’s not what you were expecting which leads to further avoidance of dental treatment. All of this is why a relationship with your dentist built on TRUST is so important.
- Generalized Dental Anxiety. This can arise from having a negative experience, especially as a child in a dental setting, learning this behaviour from a family member who is also afraid of the dentist, fearing pain and not understanding what dentistry TODAY truly entails. Being exposed to untrue, potentially frightening portrayals of dentist in the media doesn’t help either.
- Anxious of Catastrophe. Examples of this is when you fear injury, choking/or gagging during treatment, radiation exposure or even mercury poisoning.
Once you figure out what makes you feel anxious at the dentist, tell this to your dentist early on in your appointment. This will give your dentist a better understanding of your fear which will allow them to modify their approach to how they can better manage your appointments.
Techniques You Can Use During The Appointment
There are a few relaxation techniques you can employ to help you feel more at ease during your appointment. Below are some of the strategies we recommend that are easy to follow and effective at the same time.
- Progressive Muscular Relaxation:
This technique involves tensing specific muscle groups for 5–7 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of relaxation. Four major muscle groups are commonly tensed and relaxed. These are:
- feet, calves, thighs, and buttocks
- hands, forearms, and biceps
- chest, stomach, and lower back
- head, face, throat, and shoulders.
For example, gently clench your hands, hold, and let go. For shoulders, gently pull them up toward your ears, just enough to recognise the tension, hold briefly, then let go. Recognise the new position. Practice this at home before you come to your appointment so you know exactly what to do.
- Deep relaxation or diaphragmatic breathing
Employing proper breathing techniques can be very effective at helping you physically relax during your appointment. Use of the diaphragm for breathing reduces tension in the chest and provides more oxygen for the body. The technique can be done as follows:
- Sit up straight with your head upright
- Rest one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen
- Exhale all the air in your lungs until it feels empty
- Then begin to inhale. Count your breathing until you feel exactly full, to help you get a measured, even breath.
- Exhale evenly. Count the breath out, without any sudden release. Try to exhale longer than you inhale.
It is recommended to use relaxation breathing and muscle relaxation simultaneously. What this means is tensing a specific set of muscles during inhaling, and then to relax them during exhaling. You’d be surprised at how effective this technique works.
- Bring your headphones along with you to your appointment.
Listening to your favourite music without any noise interruption, or even listening to an audiobook, can help give you a sense of familiarity and comfort. At Method Dental, we also have a TV on the ceiling which is a great source of distraction as you can watch the TV while getting treatment.
What Your Dental Team Can Do to Help
Your Dental Team plays a vital role in helping you overcome your anxieties at the dentist. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. The right receptionists and dental assistants can help create a light and positive atmosphere in the dental surgery. They should be friendly, caring, and always working towards making you feel as comfortable as possible during your appointment.
Apart from the people, the ambience of the dental surgery can also affect how you feel. The surgery atmosphere should feel warm, welcoming and comfortable. Ideally, it should feel like you’re lounging in a café or even at home. Your senses are extremely sensitive and can evoke a strong emotional response, so what you see, hear and smell can all affect your stress level at the dentist.
What About My Dentist?
Your dentist is arguably the most important person to help you overcome your fear of dentistry. Find a dentist you can trust and have confidence in because that is the foundation and start of this journey.
Your dentist should do everything in their power to make you feel at ease. They should listen to your fears, empathise with your feelings, encourage you and reassure you. If they’re not doing any of those things, there’s someone else out there who will. All you have to do is find that person. They should help build your confidence in dentistry, keep you informed, be upfront and never judge.
Strategies Your Dentist Can Do to Help You
At Method Dental, we’re extremely passionate about helping anxious patients overcome their fears. These are just some of the techniques Dr. Grant uses to help his patients feel more in control during their appointment:
Loss of control during a procedure is a significant cause for anxiety. As such, it’s important that we keep you informed by telling you what to expect as well as giving you assurances that all measures are taken to ensure your safety so you feel comfortable during treatment. This is where the Tell-Show-Do technique comes into play.
Tell-show-do helps reduce uncertainty and increase predictability in the clinical setting. Firstly, it involves verbal explanations of the procedures that’s about to happen (tell); then demonstrating to you the physical aspects of the procedure like the sights and sounds to expect (show); and then, without straying from the explanation and demonstration, complete the procedure (do).
When tell-show-do is used together with positive reinforcements throughout our procedures, our patients feel a sense of accomplishment and start to build confidence in dentistry again.
Before the start of any treatment, your dentist can work with you to decide on a signal to use when and if you’re feeling any discomfort. We always ask you to simply rasie your hand to notify the dentist that you need him/her to pause treatment. By giving you control of the appointment, it not only puts you at ease but it also makes you more trusting of the dentist.
- Systematic desensitization or exposure therapy
This is where the consultation and treatment process is carried out in multiple sessions. The first appointment may be as simple as a consultation to encourage you to discuss your fear and anxieties with the dentist and getting to know your dentist. The next appointment might include some x-rays and showing you the instruments that would be used to complete the treatment. This will take away any uncertainties regarding what to expect. And if you’re ready, the next appointment would be to begin treatment.
By slowly introducing you to a clinical environment and getting you more comfortable in this setting, it’ll help reduce your level of stress during treatment.
Be Open To Change
There’s actually a lot more the dentist can do, but these are just some of Dr. Grant’s favourites as they’re not invasive and extremely effective with long-term positive results. When your dental team work together with you to help you overcome your anxieties, it’s amazing what can be achieved.
Dental anxiety and fear can have adverse impacts on your quality of life, and it’s not too late to do something about it. Find the right dental team for you and allow them to help you overcome this obstacle. It is their duty and responsibility provide you with the best dental care to ensure you can have the best oral health.
Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Be open to change and take that first step. You would have wished you had done it sooner.
Dr. Grant McGrath BDSc
Jasmine Ooi BPharm