Originally published on amolife.com
It's a proven fact that dental fear keeps people from visiting the dentist. Many people will avoid going until after cavities become painful. Then, instead of only needing a dental cleaning or a filling, they will need major dental surgery; which, only increases the fear and cost.
To prevent this from happening, scientists and psychologists have found ways patients can overcome their fear. Here, Dr. Maria Luong, founder of the Serenity Dentistry Spa, shares 7 ways to stop dental fear:
1. Make Friends with the Dentist
Several studies found that getting to know a dentist can reduce or eliminate dental fear. Researchers discovered that, when a dentist understood the patient's needs and answered any questions before starting a procedure, patients weren't nearly as afraid. Patients needed to know that their dentist have compassion and understanding.
So, before scheduling an appointment, talk to the receptionist to ask to meet with the dentist. Then, use that time to ask questions and talk about what causes the most fear. It's also the perfect opportunity to make sure the dentist is gentle, patient, and caring.
Patients will find their dentist will be all too happy to address any concerns and answer questions they may have. They might even discover that he or she are good listeners and are not going to judge them.
2. Top Secret Signs and Hidden Meanings
Studies have found that many patients will suffer through a procedure instead of speaking up. Suddenly, they can't take anymore and have to make the dentist stop. By this point, the patients get so frightened and anxious that they can't calm down. Then, they have to come back another day. Some patients can become so scared that they cry or become ill. Instead of enduring the torture, take control of the appointment.
When the fear starts to rise, ask the dentist to take a break for a moment. Even if the break only lasts for a minute, it's often enough time to calm down and rest. Of course, it's not exactly easy to ask for a break with a mouth full of odd-looking tools.
Instead of trying to say something, work out a sign with the dentist beforehand. This sign could be as simple as a raised hand or tapping on the chair. Children love this idea. They work out a top-secret hand signal with the dentist, and only the two of them know what it means.
3. Deep Breaths
When humans are afraid, the "fight or flight" response kicks in. This instinct is the same one people get when someone jumps out from around a corner. This same thing happens during dental visits.
When a person is afraid of the dentist, their heart pounds, their breathing quickens, and they start to sweat. And the closer they get to the dentist's chair, the worse it gets. To interrupt this stress response and get rid of the fear, they just need to control their breathing.
Research has found proof that box breathing is highly effective in reducing fear and anxiety. This technique was built on the idea of a square with four equal sides. There are four steps, and each of the steps lasts four seconds. Box breathing starts with a four-count inhale. It's held for four counts, exhaled for four, and then held a second time for four. This process continues until the fear dissipates.
4. Imagine Being Anywhere Else
Dental fear research has also found that distraction can calm terrified patients. This finding is part of the reason why most dental offices now have television or music for their patients. And it does works, but not for everyone.
Some patients are too scared to watch TV. Music has shown to be slightly more effective, but singing along to the latest hits generally isn't acceptable when seated in the dental chair. Some patients prefer to imagine they are somewhere else.
Called “guided imagery”, this technique may feel a little odd at first, but it's easy. With eyes closed, imagine being at another location. Then, start to describe all the details about that place. What does it smell and sound like? What textures does it have? Continue describing the scene's many features using the five senses until the fear subsides.
If it doesn't work, there are a few other options. Patients ask the dentist or an assistant to help. He or she would only need to ask questions about the imaginary scene to guide through the process. Performing box breathing and guided imagery at the same time can be particularly effective.
5. Just Relax
When people have anxiety, they will often tense up their entire body without knowing it. Anxiety can increase fear, stress levels, and physiological responses. The best way to get rid of the tightness is to relax. This advice isn't easy to follow by someone who is frightened. However, if they notice they're scared, there is a small trick they can use.
With their eyes closed, they focus on the feelings in their toes. They tighten the muscles in their toes, hold for four counts, and relax. Next, they tense up their ankles, wait for four more seconds, and relax. This process continues up the body one body part at a time until they feel relaxed. As with the imagery technique, patients can use box breathing at the same time for even better results.
6. Get Used to Scary Things
Desensitization has been used in training animals for centuries. When breaking a horse to ride, for example, trainers will start by rubbing the horse's back with a blanket. They'll keep doing this until they're no longer scared. Scientific research found it can also work on people who are frightened of an item ordinarily found in a dental office.
If a patient has a fear of the drill, for example, the dentist would begin desensitization by bringing it into the room. When the patient's anxiety becomes too severe, the dentist moves the drill out of sight. Once the tool no longer causes panic, the dentist will bring it closer. This process continues until the dentist can use it without making the patient too fearful.
7. Talk to Someone
Some people are so afraid of the dentist that they can't sleep for days before an appointment. When the day arrives, these patients can breakdown and missed going to the dentist's office. When dental fear is this severe, psychologists diagnose them with dental phobia.
Severe symptoms like these require serious intervention by a psychologist or psychiatrist. They will use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other mental health treatment. The mental health professional will find the source of the fear and help to change the behavior.
While each mental health professional approach CBT in a slightly different way, there are some key steps patients can expect. First, the psychologist will diagnose patients using specially-designed questions or surveys. Then, treatment can begin. CBT uses talking to discuss a patient's thoughts and feelings, and identify the repetitive thoughts that cause dental fear. The patient will learn how to recognize habitual thinking and how to make it stop. The entire treatment doesn't take very long. It's painless, and the procedures that are taught to patients are easy to do.
Which Technique Works Best?
Before treating a fear, it's essential to know where it comes from. Some patients, for example, are frightened of a specific object, sound, or scent. Other people become anxious because they think about past bad experiences that had happened. Sometimes, patients are apprehensive or scared of the entire situation.
Once the cause of the fear has been identified, it's possible to choose a technique to try. Patients with anxiety or minor dental fear, for example, may find getting to know the dentist or breathing techniques are enough. When a patient fears a particular object or sensation in a dentist office, desensitization would be the ideal choice.
The benefit of these techniques is that patients can use them as many times as needed. There's no risk of overdose or danger of relaxing too much. Therefore, if one of these techniques does not seem to work, try some of the others or use more than one at a time. The dentist may also have other suggestions for helping ease dental fear.
Dr. Maria Luong states, “A large portion of the population has dental fear or anxiety. For some people, it's debilitating, but these feelings shouldn't get in the way of regular dental visits. With a little time, patience, and the right technique, a previously terrified patient can soon enjoy smiling when visiting a dental office. I know my patients do!”
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