Relief from dental anxiety

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Does the thought of visiting the dentist leave you sleepless the night before? Or does the mere thought of the sound of the dentist’s drill leave you trembling?

Do not fear, as you are one of thousands of people who suffer from the phenomenon of dental anxiety.

According to the president of the South African Dental Association (SADA), Dr Leonard Sizani: “Ignoring routine oral care because of dental anxiety is sure to lead to the development of larger problems. This will inevitably result in lengthier and more costly dental interventions, because after-neglect treatment will often be the only option.”

The questions below, if answered yes, can give you an indication of whether you or someone you know suffers from dental anxiety:

  • Do you cancel your dental appointment as a result of slight uneasiness and tension the night prior to your dental visit?
  • Do you experience a bout of nervousness while waiting in your dentist’s reception area?
  • Have you had an unpleasant experience in a prior visit to the dentist?
  • Do you feel uneasy and anxious while in the dentist’s chair?
  • Does the thought of a dental injection leave you tense and physically ill?
  • Does the sight of the dentist’s or oral hygienist’s instruments make you anxious?
  • Are you afraid or embarrassed that the dentist will say that you have the worst mouth he/she has ever seen?
  • Do the objects placed in your mouth by the dentist make you panic and feel like you cannot breath correctly?
  • Do you feel like your dentist is unsympathetic towards you?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to one or several of these questions, you should try to work on alleviating your fears of receiving dental care, by trying on the following suggestions:

Choose a dentist who is on the same wavelength as you
When seeking out a suitable dentist, choose someone who will be empathetic to your needs while in the chair. He/she should make you feel comfortable and secure so that you do not feel or act afraid. You should also feel free to ask for information without feeling embarrassed. The dentist should help you make informed choices when determining your course of treatment.

Try interviewing a dentist before actually making your dental appointments. If you feel comfortable enough to talk to him or her about your fear and anxiety, then you will, in all probability, feel comfortable being his/her patient. Remember, dentists who treat children in their practices tend to be extremely patient and could be very suitable in this instance.

What you eat affects your level of anxiety
Eating high-protein foods, like cheese, one hour before your dental appointment and stopping your caffeine intake at least six hours before your appointment can do wonders for relieving dental anxiety. Always keep in mind that sugary foods can increase agitation and that carbohydrates do not have the same calming effect that protein-rich foods do.

Breathe...
Anxious people tend to hold their breath, which inadvertently increases their feeling of panic since anxiousness decreases oxygen levels. The solution is to focus on breathing regularly and slowly and always remembering to pause between inhaling and exhaling for a few seconds.

Get the facts
The root canal procedure often strikes fear into the heart of any candidate for this dental treatment. SADA’s suggestion is to familiarise yourself with this or any other procedure that may evoke fear – chances are that these procedures are not as bad as many may think, due to the many technological advances made in dentistry over the years.

Try the simple art of relaxation
Get into the habit of using a suitable method of relaxation that works for you, before your dental appointment. This could involve anything from visualising oneself on a tropical beach, to relaxing the body muscles from head to toe. If you find that music is a source of relaxation for you, put some soothing music on your phone or iPod and plug in.

When you do find yourself tensing up again, take a deep breath and consciously let your muscles relax – if the body is relaxed, it is hard for anyone to remain scared or nervous.

It is probably true to say that visiting a dentist will never be on top of anyone’s to-do list, but you can make certain that the fear you may have felt during your past visits is lessened by taking control of your oral and dental health.

Source: South African Dental Association

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