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Dental Anxiety

Topic Overview

Many people worry about going to the dentist. You may be very nervous and may actually feel sick to your stomach. Some people become so nervous that they just don't go to the dentist. But this can lead to serious problems, including infected gums and teeth, difficulty chewing, and lack of self-confidence because of bad teeth or bad breath.

To help get over being nervous about the dentist, it is helpful to first understand why you may be nervous. Reasons include:

  • Having had a painful or bad experience at the dentist, including insensitive comments made during your visit. The smell of the office or seeing or hearing the dental tools (such as the sound of a drill) may bring this back.
  • Feeling helpless or out of control. Being confined to the chair and not being able to speak and communicate may cause this. The precautions your dentist takes, such as wearing a mask and gloves, may add to this feeling.
  • Being embarrassed about the condition of your teeth.
  • Hearing about others' bad experiences at the dentist or being influenced by how TV, newspapers, or magazines portray them.
  • Fearing the unknown, including the procedures your dentist uses.

To help feel less nervous about a dental visit, try the following:

  • Talk about your fears. Tell your dentist that you are nervous, and try to explain why. This way your dentist can do everything possible to put you at ease.
  • Ask your dentist about what is going to happen and why. If you understand the steps of getting a filling, for example, you may feel less nervous about it. Ask your dentist to tell you when he or she is moving from one step in a procedure to another step.
  • Make your dental visit at a time when you are not rushed or under pressure. An early morning, late afternoon, or Saturday may be the best time, as you may not have to worry about missing school or work.
  • If the sound of a drill bothers you, ask your dentist if he or she has music and headphones. If not, bring your own audio player and headphones.
  • Agree on hand signals to communicate pain, discomfort, or the need for a break.
  • Use relaxation techniques. As you sit in the chair, try deep breathing or thinking about a favorite activity or place.
  • Don't be afraid to switch dentists. If you talk to your dentist and feel that he or she is not listening or not making an effort to help you feel at ease, try another dentist. Tell your friends about your fears, and ask them about their dentists.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
Current as of January 7, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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