No Need to Fear the Dentist

Many adults don’t look forward to going to the dentist, but some people are so scared that making the phone call for an appointment takes an enormous push of self-discipline. They are so terrified of having to go to the office that they push it out of their mind until an emergency forces them to make the call.

“There are many underlying reasons people are afraid,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix office, “and there are ways for the dentist and patient to work together to reduce dr_ford_phoenix_dentistfear as well.”  It’s not surprising that claustrophobics (people scared of enclosed places), adult survivors of child abuse and adult victims of physical or emotional abuse are terrified of the dentist. Some dental phobia comes from a bad dental experience in childhood; those victims can suffer reactions from mild to breaking out in a sweat when driving by a dental office.

“Many people fear the lack of control from the reclining chair,” says Dr. Ford. “We begin anxiety-reduction when the patient calls for an appointment. Part of that treatment is building trust,” adds Dr. Ford. Trust in your dentist reduces anxiety and helps patients relax. “A relaxed patient feels less fear than a tense patient,” says Dr. Ford, “so we help patients feel comfortable right from the beginning.”

Patients dealing with past trauma often feel embarrassed to tell the dentist why they are afraid. There’s a simple solution: Don’t. That sounds odd in our tell-all, too-much-information world, but your dentist doesn’t have to know about your abuse or trauma. Re-telling the story adds embarrassment to anxiety. There is no need to re-live trauma. Substitute facts instead—be open about your specific fear.

“We want our patients to tell us what makes them feel uncomfortable,” Dr. Ford says. “But we don’t need to know why. If a patient says they feel uncomfortable with noise, we know what to do—sound cancelling earphones and soothing music, “ Dr. Ford explains.

The key to overcoming fear is to be specific about what you’d like to avoid. If you don’t like instruments in your mouth, say so. Some people love to know every step of the procedure, others prefer to listen to music or an audio book and not know exactly what’s happening. Also, ask the dentist to agree to a “stop” signal that you can give if the pain is severe for you. Not everyone experiences pain the same way, and the dentist needs to know if you are in pain.

If you are afraid of procedures, make a list of questions ahead of time and ask to speak to your dentist about what will happen. Some good questions to ask are:

  • What are the steps in this procedure?
  • What pain-avoiding steps do you offer?
  • Would you recommend this procedure to your family members?
  • What are the consequences of this procedure?
  • What are the consequences of doing nothing?

An informed patient makes better decisions. When you feel comfortable about your decisions, you’ll be able to relax.

“We eliminate a lot of fear because our surroundings are soothing,” says Dr. Ford. “The entire office is designed to be calming, with great views and enjoyable music, “ she adds. “We prevent fear because our technicians are trained in providing answers that reduce fear,” Dr. Ford explains. Our entire dental office is experienced in communication and trust building, and you can expect to be treated with dignity. That is another fear reducer—treating patients respectfully.

“We understand fear,” says Dr. Ford, “and we work carefully to prevent it.”

For some specific insights into dental phobias, visit  the dental fear center, a resource for phobic patients.

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