If you’re scared of the dentist, you’re not alone. According to research by The Oral Health Foundation, almost half of UK adults are afraid of the dentist. This can range from a touch of anxiety when booking an appointment to avoiding treatment altogether.
According to a study carried out by Colgate, 28% of respondents said they had cancelled an appointment due to fear. And the most common reasons for avoiding the dentist include fear of pain and a poor past experience.
Avoiding the dentist might be a quick fix for your fear or anxiety, but it could be disastrous for your oral health. And if you’re afraid of drills and extractions, avoiding the dentist could actually be counterproductive.
Getting over your fear of the dentist isn’t easy, but with the right support from our friendly dental team, we can have you feeling confident and in control during your next visit.
Is it normal to be afraid of the dentist?
The statistics above confirm that it is completely normal to have a fear of the dentist. But while you might not be alone in holding this phobia, it certainly isn’t a rational fear.
A rational fear is one that helps to keep you safe. So, being afraid of bear attacks if you live in an area densely populated with bears would be rational. If you weren’t afraid, you wouldn’t take precautions to protect yourself.
But being afraid of bear attacks in a place where there are no bears would be irrational. This fear would just preoccupy your mind with something that is statistically very unlikely to ever happen.
Being scared of the dentist is similar to this. You might be afraid of experiencing pain at the dentist, but this fear is very unlikely to become a reality.
What causes dental anxiety?
The most common causes of dental anxiety are:
- Fear of pain
- Fear of needles, drills or other instruments
- Fear of judgement or criticism
- A scary past experience
The important thing to remember is that your fear is valid. It isn’t helpful to say “get over it”, or “pull yourself together”. We all deal with fears and anxieties in different ways. When tackling a fear of the dentist, we have to look for the cause of the phobia before we can find a way to manage it.
Dentists are trained to minimise pain, and it’s in their interests to keep your discomfort to a minimum. A patient who is squirming and flinching is much more difficult to work with than one that is calm and still.
And while the sights and sounds of the dentist’s office might be uncomfortable, unusual or alarming, none of them will hurt you. If you are afraid of drills or needles, you can inform your dentist beforehand. Often all that is needed is a dentist who can slow things down and help you to understand what is happening and what to expect next.
Remember that regular dental checkups can actually help to avoid the need for invasive treatment. A cavity left untreated could lead to a painful abscess. And an abscess left untreated could require an extraction. So, attending an appointment for a simple filling could help you to avoid a root canal or extraction further down the line.
But what about some of the other reasons patients fear the dentist? It’s common for children to fear getting in trouble with the dentist for not taking care of their teeth. These children can carry this fear into adulthood, worrying that their dentist will judge them for the poor condition of their teeth.
Rest assured that no dentist is judging you for your actions or choices. Their primary goal is to help you maintain your teeth in a way that works for you. If you feel that your dentist is judging you, this is far more likely to be a reflection of your own feelings. Perhaps you are embarrassed that you have left a problem for so long?
How can I get over my fear of the dentist?
Once you have identified that you have a fear of the dentist you can take steps to tackle your fear. Finding the right dentist might be all you need to get over your fear. Not all dentists are created equal, and a mild phobia can be made much worse by a dentist with poor patient communication skills.
The days of sticking with the same dentist out of obligation or loyalty are behind us. If you don’t click with your dentist, it’s time to find a new one. Some patients enjoy a friendly and chatty dentist, while others prefer a no-nonsense approach.
Above all else, you should find a dentist you feel comfortable discussing your phobia with. Being able to talk about your fears can help to make the dentist’s chair much less intimidating. And your dentist can take steps to put you at ease if they know what you are afraid of.
A popular method to get patients back into the dentist’s chair involves booking a visit to the dental hygienist. This will allow you to get comfortable in your chair, talk about your fears and get an oral health check. A scale and polish will introduce some new sounds and sensations that can help you to work through your phobia.