Dental fear and anxiety

Dentistry has come a long way over the years. Can you imagine undergoing an extraction in ancient times with no anesthesia and unsterilized tools? Luckily, we live in the right century when it comes to having a positive experience at the dentist. But no matter the times we live in or current technology, fear of the dentist is a real thing experienced by many Americans. It’s normal to be a bit fearful of certain experiences, but if fear is preventing you from getting the dental care you need, it’s time to find some help.

Here are a few ideas to help you calm your nerves from dental fear!

Try not to read and listen to horrible stories experienced by other people online.

Identify your dental fears

It’s helpful to identify the specific aspects of a dental visit that cause you anxiety. Write them down on a piece of paper. Sometimes this exercise alone can help you identify fears that may be unfounded or overblown by your imagination. Once you have them written down, bring them to your dentist.

Most dentists have ways to help you prepare for your dental visit.

  1. See your dentist first to talk to her/him
  2. Tell her your fear and why you feel so
  3. Find a doctor who will take time, listen, explain one step at a time, and empathize your fear.
  4. The doctor will offer a “look & see” exam first, take some pictures and x-rays.
  5. Then she can show you photos and x-rays and go over what you really need or not.
  6. She may give you medicine like Xanax or Valium that you will take to help you stay calm the night before and an hour before your dentist visit.

Ask your dental team how they can help

Perhaps they can dim the lights to provide a calmer experience. Or they can tell you about what to expect each step of the way. Or perhaps you prefer they remain silent so you can focus on relaxing. Most dental offices work hard to alleviate patients’ fears and may have suggestions of their own for you! Here at Menlo Park Dental Excellence, we always strive to make our patients feel listened, safe and comfortable.

Have a close friend in the room

Simply having extra social support can make a big difference! Afraid of the needle? Have your friend hold your hand or share a funny story to make that initial twinge more doable for you.

Use some relaxation techniques

Try deep breathing or repeating a helpful mantra. Whether that’s your favorite verse, music lyrics, or something simple like “I am in control. This will be over soon,” this affirmation can help settle your nerves.

Use hand signals

Dr. Nguyen always checks for thorough numbness and or complete comfort, or stops before and during procedures to ask if you are alright and when you need a break. Let her know that when you lift your left hand, it means you need something. When you’re ready to proceed, give her permission to continue the procedure. This is a common practice in our office to let you, the valued patient, know that you’re in control and allow yourself to take necessary breaks.

Ask about your sedation options

Dr. Nguyen will be able to explain the different options out there and any associated risks. Depending on the level of sedation you require, you may need to be referred to a special dentist. At our office, Dr. Nguyen uses only local anesthetic and gives prescription for anti-anxiety medicines such as Xanax or Valium.

Reward yourself

If it helps, find some type of reward to focus on throughout your visit. Focus on intrinsic rewards (“I finally won’t have to deal with this toothache”) or extrinsic rewards (“double mocha with whip, please”).

Speak with a psychologist

For some of us, the fear and anxiety can be so great that we avoid the dentist at all costs. This can be extremely harmful for our health, and can make simple dental problems much worse than they need to be. If this is the case for you, feel no shame in seeking our professional help. Find a local counselor who is knowledgeable in this area.

Bottom line: your dental health is too important to let fear stand in your way.

Menlo Park Dental Excellence is just a phone call away from starting the process to getting you the help you need. We are there for you! Good luck!