Thursday, 09 February 2012 00:00
It is estimated that between 5 and 8 percent of Americans don't go to the dentist out of fear and another 20% only go when absolutely necessary.
When trying to conquer dental anxiety, "the main thing is to remember is that you are in charge," says Kendra Holdip Donaldson, RDH, who works in the cozy office of dentist Charles Grannum, DMD, in Brooklyn, New York. "People are self-conscious about communicating their anxieties." She points out that unless patients voice their fears, dentists and hygienists can't help make their appointments more bearable.
Grannum and his staff are part of a new generation of dentists and hygienists whose training includes methods of making people feel more comfortable and relaxed. In his office, they play soft music, offer healthy snacks and tea in the waiting room, and will set up a favorite DVD for patients to watch during longer procedures. Still, surveys show that the average person feels as much anxiety about going to the dentist as they did 50 years ago.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), "Dental anxiety is a significant cause of poor dental health." Dr. Ada Cooper, ADA spokesperson, describes a vicious cycle: People are scared of going to the dentist so they postpone or put off making appointments altogether. Inevitably, this approach leads to bigger, more costly and, potentially, more painful problems down the road. However, there are easy methods anyone can try to make visits to the dentist less stressful and more pleasant.
*Do your homework. If you are going to a new dentist, check out reviews of their practice. You can't believe everything you read online, but you may be reassured or spot some red flags. Donaldson suggests popping by your new dentist's office a few days before your appointment to "see what the vibe is." If you feel like it's friendly and pleasant, you will have less anxiety going to your actual appointment.
*Listen to music. Bring a portable MP3 player and listen your favorite music or a podcast. Dentist.org points out that the sound of the ultrasonic scaler or dental drill triggers a high proportion of the anxiety many people feel in the dentist's chair. Simply blocking the noise with something you enjoy can make a huge difference.
*Breath deeply. Grannum, along with the ADA, is a big proponent of using slow, deep breaths and visualization techniques to overcome fear and anxiety. Close your eyes and focus your mind on a place or people you love.
*Communicate. Don't "suffer in silence." Decide on a signal such as raising your hand that will alert your dentist or hygienist that a procedure is uncomfortable or that you need a break. Most people are more relaxed when they feel in control of the process.
*No question is too basic for your dentist. You can ask what instruments they are going to use, how long a procedure is going to take, and what it is going to feel like. "Some patients feel more comfortable knowing step, by step, by step, what is going to happen," says Cooper. "People tend to be anxious about what they don't know."
*Schedule an appointment for after you have done something relaxing. Cooper recommends that if you have a high stress job, don't come rushing to your appointment after a long day at the office. Instead, schedule an early morning or a weekend appointment.
*Eat a light meal before your appointment. It's important to have something in your stomach when you are having dental work done because hunger can increase the body's stress response. People with blood sugar issues need to be particularly mindful so they don't feel lightheaded or even faint. Also, if your treatment requires Novocain, you might not be able to eat for a couple of hours while the numbing effects wear off. However, don't eat a large, heavy meal. It might make you feel nauseous during certain types of procedures.
*Request a topical anesthetic. Numbing gels properly applied can make oral injections virtually pain-free.
*Take a prophylactic pain-reliever. Some people benefit from taking a dose of ibuprofen either before or after certain procedures. Check with your dentist prior to your appointment.
*Hypnosis. If you experience a debilitating level of fear and do not want to resort to pharmaceuticals, studies show hypnosis can be effective for alleviating dental anxiety.
*Practice good dental hygiene. Your appointment is guaranteed to be better if you practice good hygiene and go to the dentist for regular cleaning and check up appointments. Brush after every meal and floss daily. Most adults and children should have checkups every six months.
*Find a new dentist. Cooper says you should completely trust your dentist. If you don't feel comfortable, you should get a second opinion or find another dentist.
*With kids, there are some special considerations:
*A child's first visit to the dentist should be fun. Focus on exploring the office and getting to know the dentist and their staff. They can always return for more treatment as necessary, but that initial visit can influence the way they feel about going to the dentist for the rest of their lives.
*Don't make kids endure treatment if they are upset or panicked. Occasionally, children will have to have dental treatment under duress because of a real emergency. But generally speaking, forcing a miserable, crying child to have dental work done is going to backfire. A slow, gentle approach, where the child feels in charge, can actually build their confidence and make them feel proud about overcoming their fears.
*Model relaxed behavior. As long as you are feeling calm about it, Cooper suggests asking your dentist about bringing your child to watch your dental or hygiene appointment.
If you still can't swallow making an appointment, Grannum points out a new trend in the field: spa dentistry. Pampered patients can choose to have services like an aromatherapy foot massage along with their six-month cleaning or order a special frozen soothing smoothie after their dental work is complete. Don't expect insurance to pick up the manicure tab.
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