A dental phobia is a strange beast – there are big tough rugby players who quake as soon as they’re asked to sit in that chair; women who would rather give birth again than have a filling…
The thing is, your teeth need to be looked after; toothache hurts and makes you miserable and the longer you leave it, the worse it’ll get. Visiting the dentist for a regular check-up helps to avoid these painful scenarios, so if you shudder at the thought, you can help yourself no end by getting to grips with your fear. Here’s how.
Own your fears
You need to accept that you’re scared – don’t make excuses about being busy, or being pain-free. Recognise the fact you’re scared and think about why. Is it the potential pain? The fear of being judged (you won’t be)? Did you have a scary dentist as a child (he’ll be retired by now)?
Try different dentists
Sometimes, the combination of down-to-earth receptionists and calm dentists works and your fears fall away; or, at least, you don’t feel stupid. Look for dental surgeries that specialise in nervous patients – if you’re looking for such a dentist in Dublin you shouldn’t have any trouble at all. Many will let you pay a quick visit before making an appointment if you give them a ring first.
One thing you don’t want is comforting platitudes – you’ll have heard them for years if you’re phobic. “It’ll be over in a minute,”, “It’s nothing to worry about,” Well, when you’re scared, a minute seems like an hour, and you are worried! Look for a team that “gets” fear and empathises with it, not minimises it.
Talk about your fear with the team
You need to communicate; if your main fear is not being able to stop the drilling when you need to, agree that you can ask for a 10-second break now and again. If it’s not being able to see what’s happening, ask for a running commentary. Just work out a plan that you’re comfortable with – a good dentist will work with you.
Work on combatting your fear
You’re probably always going to have some anxiety, so don’t aim for multiple root canal treatments, in the high street, with no anaesthetic after one visit. It ain’t happening and no-one’s going to expect it!
Start with a check-up, then a polish, then maybe a small filling. Develop a dialogue; find common ground, whether it’s talking about holidays or your mutual love of Persian cats.
Bring a chum along
Having a friend with you who isn’t scared of dentists too is a huge help. You might want them in with you during the procedure, or you might derive comfort from knowing they’re waiting outside for you, ready to whisk you off shopping.
It’s also best to make your appointments for the morning, so you’re not stewing all day.
Ask about sedatives
Some dentists offer sedation, or you might be able to get medication from your family doctor. Ask your dentist if it’s a good idea – it could make all the difference.
Learn relaxation techniques
Some patients hyperventilate during treatment and this creates a vicious circle. Break the circle by learning controlled breathing, for example. It slows the heartbeat and tells the body that everything’s just fine.
Listen to music, count, ask your dentist to tell silly jokes… Whatever works for you works!
Get outside help if you’re really bad
If you’re severely phobic, go to a counsellor or psychologist for more intense help with your phobia.