Millions of people suffer from phobias—a somewhat debilitating, unrealistic fear—and an estimated 30 to 40 million have anxiety or fear related to going to seeing their dentist. These cases can be severe and classified as a full-on phobia or can be milder, and classified as a case of dental anxiety. Both adults and children can experience this discomfort. In some cases, this fear of seeing a dentist can lead to irregular check-ups and poor dental health from lack of care.
Dental Anxiety & Adulthood
For adults, avoiding the dentist’s office can create a mix of emotions. Maybe you’ve avoided the dentist because you’ve been embarrassed about the current state of your teeth. Maybe your last appointment was painful, and you’re afraid you’re going to experience that same level of discomfort again. Or, perhaps, the loss of control is unnerving to you. Whatever your reason for not seeing your dentist, know that you are not alone. Many people struggle with feeling uncomfortable at their dentist’s office and depending on what causes your discomfort, there are some simple coping mechanisms we suggest you try:
We realize that dental equipment—like drills and brushes—can have a menacing sound. If the noises of the dentist’s office are offsetting to you, bring in a pair of earplugs or headphones. We won’t be offended if you tune us out for a little while.
Too Many Tools
For some, the many tools we use in the office to clean patient’s teeth can be a little overwhelming and even intimidating. When you come in for your appointment, feel free to ask questions about what each tool is used for, maybe even holding some before your check-up begins. This kind of informal meet and greet with the tools of the trade make them seem less sterile and scary.
Lying back can make people feel vulnerable. If the feeling of leaning back in your dentist’s chair creates anxiety for you, ask if the chair can be lowered only half-way. Different procedures may not allow this, but in some cases, this less severe recline can make the appointment more enjoyable.
Dental Anxiety & Children
It’s not uncommon for kids to experience some anxiety when they come to their check-up. Before you come in for your child’s appointment, start getting them comfortable with the idea of what the dentist does and why you need to go there. The best way to avoid dental anxiety is to begin introducing kids to the dentist when they’re young.
One of the greatest advantages to starting dental appointments with children when they’re young is how much more comfortable kids become at the dentist office over time. The American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) agree that a child’s first visit to the dentist should be before their first birthday, or within six months of their first tooth erupting. These frequent visits make the dentist and the office more familiar, and also help prevent the development of dental problems. In a report from the ADA and AAPD on children’s dental care, they note that “children with healthy teeth chew food easily, are better able to learn to speak clearly, and smile with confidence” with early visits starting children “on a lifetime of good dental habits.”
Starting this mindset at home is as simple as playing a pretend game of going to a dentist appointment. Have your child sit back with their mouth open, wide enough for you as the “dentist” to use a toothbrush to point at their teeth. As you’re looking at each tooth, count it out loud to them. This “game” is a great tool that gives your child a better understanding of what their real appointment will look and feel like.
Keep Expectations & Explanations in Check
Many parents try to explain to their child what a dentist appointment will be like. Trust us, the less that’s explained, the better off everyone will be. For example: Say that you’ve told your child to expect the dentist will clean their teeth. More than likely, that’s true. Unfortunately, in the case that more dental care is needed, such as a filling, your child’s expectations will not be met. This change could cause your child to not only distrust the dentist but also to distrust you. It’s better to keep explanations simple and light-hearted, allowing the dental staff to create the tone for the child’s treatment needs in their way.
Trust the Dental Staff
Dental offices know that coming to the dentist can be a scary experience for children the first few times. If your child fusses, whines, or cries, just know that it’s normal and is something that the staff is trained to work with. Be prepared to follow the staff’s instructions, whether that be to hold your child’s hand or just to sit in during the appointment. As tempting as it may be, try not to use bribery to elicit good behavior. Instead, wait until the treatment is done and use positive affirmations to reward bravery or agreeableness. Using positive reinforcement like this helps develop good patient habits, and takes out the want for candy or a toy when the appointment comes to an end.
For patients young and old who are dealing with dental anxiety or fears, we suggest coming in to visit and meet our staff. Getting to know who will be working with you has been a great solution to make patients—both adults and children—feel more comfortable. (If your child is a train lover, our officeis an old depot with many pieces of railroad memorabilia. Sometimes telling kids about our office’s little electric set and toys makes the visit sound more like a fun trip than a doctor’s appointment!) If you would like to set up an appointment to meet the staff or for a check-up, give the Creason, Weber & Mountford office a call at (616) 842-0822. We always welcome new patients, and you can even get in touch with us online!