Overcoming Fear of the Dentist

Is your fear of a checkup preventing you from going to the dentist?

Credit: Flickr/mattlemmon

Find a dentist who specializes in treating people with checkup anxiety

When was the last time you visited the dentist? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Never?

You’re not alone. Statistics Canada reports that 40% of Canadians don’t seek dental care.

Among the most common reasons why people don’t see the dentist are fear (fear of pain or injections, a fear of the numbness associated with local anesthetics, a feeling of lack of control or anxiety) and the cost of dental treatment. It’s estimated that 11% to 22% of patients have extreme dental anxiety. 

Unfortunately, the longer you avoid seeing the dentist, the more likely you are to develop a need for emergency treatment as well as gum disease.

Also, just because you don’t have pain, doesn’t mean your mouth is healthy; you may have cavities, broken fillings, gum disease, decay under the gum line or hairline tooth fractures, among other issues. 

How to Deal with Dental Anxiety

Fear can be a real impediment to seeking dental treatment, with symptoms that range from extreme tension, nervousness, nausea, excessive sweating and heart palpitations to full-blown panic. Fortunately, with dental anxiety, what you imagine will happen far exceeds the reality and (like all anxieties) fear of going to the dentist can be overcome. Here are some tips:

  • Do your research. Find a dentist who specializes in treating people with anxiety and will take 
the time needed to help you feel comfortable.

  • Ask your dentist to explain procedures; understanding decreases anxiety.

  • Use the deep-breathing technique to help you relax before and during treatment.

  • Listen to music or watch TV (if available) during the procedure.

  • Wear sunglasses if you don’t like the bright light in your face.

  • Ask your dentist about dental sedation. Some dentists use nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help patients relax. The sedative effect stops as soon as the gas is stopped. If you still don’t think you can cope, deeper sedation can also be used, although this is usually limited to dental surgery or root canals.

  • Another option is to speak with your doctor about sedative medications that can take the edge off the anxiety of a dental appointment.

  • If cost is an issue, inquire about financial assistance options.

Your Oral Health Comes First

Don’t let fear or the cost of dental care keep you from addressing your oral health. Talk to your dentist.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.