One in four people have a fear of the dentist. If we worry about dental appointments, it’s something we are absolutely not alone in.
But depression can make the problem worse. Because we struggle with self-care, we might not look after our teeth as well as we should, which can cause our fear of the dentist to build. We worry that our teeth will look awful and that the dentist will judge us. We worry that we will need lots of dental procedures because our teeth are damaged. And we worry about the logistics of making an appointment, the cost, and how we might react when we get in the chair.
Identify Your Fear
Different people will be nervous about different aspects of dental appointments. Trying to work out what it is we’re scared of can help us to manage that fear. It might be helpful to talk it over with someone. Having a chat about it can help us to get to the root of our fear.
Dentists have changed
For a lot of us, our fear of the dentist stems from experiences we had when we were younger. Our anxieties can be set off by the smell of the dentist, the noise of the tools, or something else. Dentists have changed a lot in recent years, though. They are now much more aware that many patients are nervous, and are trained in working with that. The equipment they use has also advanced. Many of their tools are much quieter and less obtrusive than they used to be. Other aspects of treatment have also improved, so the whole experience can now be painless.
Finding A Dentist
When looking for a dentist, it can help to ask around friends and family to see if anyone has a recommendation. Some dentists specialise in treating nervous patients. These dentists are even more experienced in treating those with dental fear than normal dentists are. Dental phobia is a great site which can help us to find our nearest specialist dentist.
Making An Appointment
The process of booking an appointment can feel stressful – many of us hate using the telephone, and we worry we won’t be able to find the words to explain our anxieties, or that the receptionist won’t be sympathetic.
We may want to consider asking a trusted friend to book an appointment for us. If that’s not possible, we might jot down everything we want to say beforehand, in case we clam up during the call. If the phone is a real problem, some dentists might be contactable via email – or we could pop into the surgery in person when we’re having a good day.
When booking an appointment, it’s important to book a slot that we would find to be the least stressful. Some people might prefer a morning slot so that they’re not worrying all day. Others might prefer to book one a little later in the day so they have time to chill out and relax in the morning. If crowds bother us, we might want to book our appointment out of ‘peak’ times. Everyone is different.
The First Appointment
At our first dental appointment, our dentist will not dive straight in with a root canal. The first appointment will usually be a check-up. It’s a chance to get to know the dentist, and see that everything is okay. Our teeth and gums might be fine, in which case we won’t need to go back for a while. Sometimes we will need further treatment, but our dentist will discuss this with us and explain it to us. We would then book another appointment for that treatment.
If a check-up feels too overwhelming as a first step, we could to arrange to go and look around the dental surgery before that appointment. This can help to remove some of the unknowns and calm some of our anxieties.
Eat And Drink Before You Go
Feeling nervous often means that the last thing we want to do is eat or drink. Being anxious can cause us to feel faint, and feeling faint can increase our anxiety. Having something to eat or drink before we go to the appointment can help to prevent us from feeling so faint.
Take A Friend
Inviting a friend or family member to come with us can help to calm us down. When we’re alone, it’s very easy for thoughts to circulate and for us to get ourselves in more and more of a state. If a friend or family member is free, it can be useful to bring them along. They can chat to us about anything and anything that isn’t teeth and keep us distracted while waiting for the appointment. We could even invite them into the room with us if we want to. They could help us to explain our fears to the dentist, and to keep us calm during the appointment.
Take Some Music
Many dentists won’t have a problem with us bringing some headphones in. This can allow us to pop on our favourite tunes, or chill out with a podcast we love. Doing so can help us to relax.
Take A List Of Medications
Often, dentists will ask you to share some personal information when you first arrive. This can include a list of current medications. It’s helpful for the dentist to know this in case we need anaesthetic or an x-ray. It can be hard to remember the names and dosages of all our medications, especially when we’re already anxious and stressed. Taking a list with us means that there’s one less thing to think and worry about.
Have A Conversation
When we go into the dentist, it’s worth having a chat to them about how nervous we are. Being fearful is nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about; it’s really common. Dentists deal with it on a daily basis. Discussing our worries with the dentist can help them to calm some of our nerves and think of solutions to some of our worries.
Agree A Sign
One thing we often fear about the dentist is that we can’t communicate with them because our mouth is open. At the start of an appointment, we could agree a sign with the dentist that signals a request for them to stop. Having that sign can help our anxiety to reduce, even if we end up not needing to use it.
If we are particularly nervous, we can ask our dentist to refer us to a sedation clinic. These clinics specialise in treating nervous patients. They can offer various levels of sedation to help us relax. They don’t normally put patients to sleep, so we can still talk to the dentist. We should just feel a little more relaxed.
Many of us worry that we have bad teeth. We get embarrassed about it. When we’re really low and struggling to self-care, regular teeth cleaning can go out of the window. Lots of people have bad teeth for many different reasons. Our teeth will not be the worst teeth our dentist has ever seen – they will probably be far from it! Our dentist is there to help us, not to judge us.
Costs (in the UK)
The cost of the dentist is something that many of us worry about. When money is tight, paying dental costs can feel like the last straw.
Sometimes dental care is free. If we receive certain benefits, we’re entitled to free dental care. We can also receive free dental care if we have a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or HC2 certificate. Dental care is free if we’re under 18, under 19 and in full-time education, pregnant or if we have had a baby in the past 12 months. It’s also free if we’re staying in an NHS hospital and our treatment is carried out by a hospital dentist.
The NHS has a Low Income Support Scheme (LIS) which is there to support those on low incomes. We can apply for this scheme if our savings are less than £16000, or £23250 if we live in a care home.
If we do need to pay for dental healthcare, Band 1 treatment costs £20.60, Band 2 treatment costs £56.30 and Band 3 treatment costs £244.30.
If we’re worried about the financial implications of dental care, it’s better to speak to the dental surgery about it than it is to avoid them. It might be possible to come up with a payment plan. Alternatively, the surgery might know of charities or NHS schemes which could help us out.
Dental fear is really common, so there are a number of resources out there which could help us:
British Dental Association have lots of information and support on all aspects of dental care.
Dental Fear Central offer a huge amount of advice for a large number of dental fears. They have various useful resources including a sheet on things we could ask the dentist for to help reduce our anxieties, and a sheet on things that might help.
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