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Dental Phobia: How to Create a More Bearable Trip to the Dentist

For many people an appointment with the dentist can be an ominous date. Approximately 5% of the population faces severe dental fear known as dentophobia or odontophobia. For these people (you may be one of them), a routine dental examination can be the worst experience in the world.

New York City based dentist Dr. Louis Siegelman, D.D.S., works in a private practice that specializes in patients with extreme dental phobias. He states that “I’ve met people out in the hallway hugging the wall, I’ve had people I’ve had to meet outside the office because they couldn’t bring themselves in” and that these dental fears often spawn from previously traumatic dental experiences or extreme discomfort associated with dental visits.

A study conducted by researchers of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden showed that common coping practices for overcoming dental fears include distraction (counting or other mental games), distancing (convincing oneself that the pain feels like something else), prayer (that the procedure ends or is painless), self-efficacy (telling oneself to be strong) and optimism all may help contribute to a positive dental experience.

Siegelman agrees that these practices may help, but the best way to lessen the magnitude of dental procedures is to be hyper-vigilant about oral hygiene which in return, will make dental visits less of an ordeal.

People who avoid routine dental checkups and neglect oral hygiene only reaffirm their negative view on dentistry when they eventually do make a trip to the dentist as problems that could have been identified and corrected early on have had the opportunity to develop into something more severe.

Siegelman offers several scenarios and tips to alleviate stress associated with dental examinations and procedures.

  1. Fear of the Unknown: Anxiety can build in patients through the lack of communication with their dentist. Siegelman will take a moment to sit down face to face with a new patient before any work is done. Don’t be hesitant to ask your dentist to speak you in order to develop a more personal trusting relationship.
  2. Fear of the dental equipment: It is instinctive to not like sharp mental objects in your mouth, but holding the tools and getting a grasp for them may help quell anxiety.
  3. Sensitive gag reflex: For those who have had a difficult time in the past with x-rays, there are new technologies that take digital panoramic x-rays without the need to place a film apparatus in the back of your mouth.
  4. The dentist seems ominous: Dentists are professionals and at times the busyness of their schedule and familiarity they have with their work may make them seem impersonal or even ominous. This will be lessened if you take advantage of the first tip, or find a dentist who has a reputation as a light hearted individual or as being humorous as humor has been shown to lessen imposed psychological barriers between dentists and patients.
  5. Fear of loud noises: Ear plugs or noise canceling headphones with your favorite music can help put you at ease by blocking out the sound of dental instruments.
  6. Feeling uncomfortable lying back in a Dentist’s chair: If it is an issue of feeling out of control when placed too far back, request that you only be put back half way. If the issue is back pain, a dentist can provide positioning pillows to help alleviate pains.
  7. Unable to breathe through the nose: If you are typically a mouth breather, the routine procedures can be very uncomfortable. Siegelman suggests nasal strips to assist in nose breathing or nitrous oxide that can help patients relax and breathe better.

It is our goal to make your dental visit as relaxed as possible. What tips do you have to improve our practice or what methods do you use to reduce stress when during your dental visits?

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