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5 Steps to Overcoming Fear of Dentists and Dental Offices

By Susan Braden

Are you paralyzed by a fear of going to the dentist office? Do not be afraid to get help – your teeth and your body health may be at stake. Follow these 5 steps to overcome your fear at the dentist office.

1. Identify and Acknowledge Your Fear

Many people suffer from a fear of the dentist. If you have ever had a painful or agonizing experience at the dentist, it may have left you with a strong internal desire to evade a similar experience! Perhaps there are other life experiences or even irrational fears that leave you unable to trust a dentist to care for your dental needs. Clearly, there is a scale of severity when discussing an indwelling fear – as with any fear, the causes of dental fear vary, but identifying and acknowledging your fear is a solid first step to dealing with it.

What comes to mind when you think of going to the dentist? Write down the specific things you think of; perhaps they are the sound of a drill, the feeling of metal instruments poking in your mouth, or even a loss of control. Try to identify the source(s) of your dental fear, and summarize it on paper. When you are finished, read back over what you wrote to determine if it represents more or less the object(s) of your fear. Now, simply acknowledge that you are afraid of what you have written down.

2. Realize that You Are Not Alone

Though this realization may sound cliché, many who are hindered by an overpowering fear believe that they are isolated in their experience, or perhaps just “odd.” As a result, they often bear their burden in silence, uncertain of how others might respond. Though your phobia of a dentist may sound harmless, it can easily lead to the severe neglect of your dental care if left unchecked.

According to the construct theory, your experiences can impress you so strongly that you may wrongly ascribe attributes to a whole group that do not actually belong to that group as a whole. In other words, if a prior bad experience with a dentist is the cause of your fear, then you may have a tendency to believe that all other dentists will treat you in the same manner. If your past dental experiences contribute to your current fear, decide to give other dentists the benefit of the doubt so that your dental needs can be addressed.

3. Get References

Once you have targeted your fear, think about what characteristics you would like an ideal dentist to possess, and gather references from family and close friends who live in your area. Are you more comfortable seeing a male or female dentist, and what personality qualities are important to you than others? How many years of experience would you like your dentist to have? Is it important that your dentist must be congenial or talkative? (Kind, compassionate dentists will more likely set you at ease and build trust with you as they work on your teeth.)

Ask your family and friends questions based on the mandatory qualities you have listed, and have them provide examples from past visits to help paint a clearer picture of their experiences. Pay attention to their responses; try to narrow your list down to two or three dentists of good repute to choose from.

4. Have a Conversation with Your Dentist List

Try to have a conversation with the remaining dentists on your list. This may be a challenge, depending on the type and size of the practices represented on your list. However, you should still try!

Find a Dentist in Your Area

Call each office and request a phone consultation with the dentist to whom you were referred. You will most likely need to leave a message, in which case you will want to be sure to leave a contact number where you can be reached when they call back. Your objective is to ask questions that will help you determine if this person has the character and competence both to address your dental needs and to gain your confidence. Does this dentist seem knowledgeable and experienced; do they seem likable or concerned about your particular needs?

5. Devise a Plan

Now that you have located a provider, think through the possible problems you may encounter at your first visit. Refer back to your earlier list that states what you fear about visiting a dentist. Imagine yourself in the dental office, sitting back in the chair as a dentist is beginning your examination – what do you think will happen?

When making this plan, the point is not to list out everything that could conceivably go wrong, but rather to identify some potential reactions you may have and to plan an appropriate response. Dentists are there to help you, so do not be afraid to tell them about your fear and to talk through your plan with them.

You may want to create a hand signal with your dentist (such as holding up a finger if you need the dentist to stop immediately) in case you are unable to control your reaction. Also, you may choose to remember a memorized story or passage to calm you amidst any fearful thinking.

Fear of your dentist does not mean you are destined for perpetual tooth decay, or the painful performing of your own dental work. The first step to conquering your fear is deciding that you can do something about it. You can conquer your fear by following these steps diligently!

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