If just the idea of going to the dentist gives you cold chills, or the thought of a teeth cleaning makes you nauseous, you are not alone. You may be one of the millions of people who experience dental anxiety or dental fear. Dental anxiety is a term used to describe the fear, anxiety, and stress nearly 36% of people feel before or during a visit to the dentist. For some, dental anxiety can be severe enough to prevent them from seeking the dental care and treatments they need for good oral health.
What causes dental anxiety?
Despite its goal of preserving a beautiful, healthy smile, dental care can produce a wide range of emotions in people of all ages, and some very intense emotions that cannot be easily alleviated or reassured. Anything from the sights, sounds, and smells of the dentist’s office to simply seeing an impending appointment can cause symptoms like:
- Low blood pressure or feeling faint
- Racing heartbeat or palpitations
- Withdrawal or attempts to mask anxiety
- Visible distress like signs of panic/panic attack, shortness of breath, or crying
- Shaky hands
Dental anxiety can also be caused by fears like:
Pain. Fear of pain can develop as a result of a previously unpleasant personal experience at the dentist’s, or even from hearing other people’s dental “horror stories” about painful dental visits.
Injections or that the injection won’t work. Local injections are common in dental procedures for administering anesthesia or numbing agents, but the fear of needles can be paralyzing, and many people will do whatever they can to avoid a situation when a needle or injection is needed, especially in the mouth. They may also be afraid that the anesthesia or numbing agent won’t work or be effective enough to prevent pain during the subsequent procedure.
Loss of control or feelings of helplessness. For some people, dental anxiety is more about the psychological aspects of receiving dental care than the physical. Being confined to a chair, unable to move, use your mouth, or see what’s happening can bring up a lot of negative emotions. This can be exacerbated if anesthesia is necessary; side effects like nausea, feeling faint or dizzy, and local numbness can heighten the feeling of vulnerability.
Embarrassment. Unfortunately, dental anxiety often goes hand in hand with poor dental health, and it can be difficult to determine which came first. People may have poor dental health and be embarrassed to seek the treatment they need. Or, they may be ashamed of their anxiety, avoiding treatment and leading to problems like cavities, tooth decay, and tooth loss that make them feel even more embarrassed, creating a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.
In some cases, dental anxiety can be part of a larger condition, such as generalized anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In rare cases, dental anxiety can lead to dental phobia, an extreme fear of visiting the dentist that can be terrifying and overwhelming.
How can I cope with my dental anxiety?
If your dental anxiety is keeping you from visiting your dentist, you could be setting the stage for bigger problems in the future. Gum disease or cavities that go undiagnosed and untreated can ultimately lead to severe tooth decay, bone loss, and jaw deterioration. Moreover, many serious health conditions, including certain oral cancers, often first present themselves as symptoms in the mouth; catching warning signs early can help ensure better health outcomes.
Routine cleanings and exams, as well as necessary preventative or restorative dentistry treatments like fluoride and fillings, help keep your mouth, teeth, gums, and jaw looking, feeling, and functioning as they should. The more you avoid basic dental care, the more your oral and overall health will suffer in the long run.
The most important step you can take in coping with your dental anxiety is discussing it with a dental professional. You are not alone in your feelings of fear or stress, and they deserve to be taken seriously. Most dentists are very familiar with dental anxiety in their patients and often have both the experience and the resources to help their patients navigate negative emotions associated with treatment.
By talking with your doctor openly and honestly about your concerns, you both can develop a plan to help reduce your stress as much as possible. You may benefit from a thorough explanation of everything that will happen during your visit so you will know exactly what to expect, or you both may decide on a signal that will indicate you’d like the dentist to stop or pause. You could tap your chair or raise your hand when you start to feel uncomfortable and need a moment to rinse your mouth or collect yourself.
Let Norman Smile Center Help with Your Dental Anxiety
Maintaining a healthy smile and mouth is important not just for your oral health, but for your overall health and well-being, but the nurses, dentists, and staff at Norman Smile Center understand that seeking dental care is just harder for some people than others. Whether you are embarrassed about the condition of your teeth, nervous about a procedure, or just uncomfortable in general, we treat every patient with the compassion and respect you deserve and work hard to help you feel safe, comfortable, and confident in our office. We use a wide range of methods to help anxious patients relax so they can get the care they need, from nitrous oxide and oral sedation medication to headphones for blocking out noise.
At Norman Smile Center, we believe everyone deserves a beautiful, healthy smile and we are committed to providing quality dental care that is professional and affordable. We accept most dental insurance plans, as well as CareCredit for easy financing, and we’re a preferred provider for Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Delta Dental, and Cigna.
Don’t spend another day wishing you had the smile of your dreams. Call Norman Smile Center today at 405-329-6603 to schedule a consultation or appointment, or use our convenient online request form here. We’re always accepting new patients, and we’re always ready to see you!