Think the worst thing that can happen from blowing off the dentist is a cavity or two? Think again. Serious risks to health, including heart disease, stroke, infection and even some cancers, will make that smile drop like a rock. Don’t worry appointment avoiders, you’re not alone! 40-60% of American adults have dental anxiety, 15% refuse to see dentists completely, and almost all of those not on recommended dental schedules claim fears/nerves as the reason why. If fear of the drill has you running from responsibility, these tips should help soothe the stress and fool the phobia:
1. Find a dentist you can connect with.
“The first step is finding someone who you can connect with. People don’t go to people who cut their hair they don’t like, they don’t go to an OB/GYN they don’t like, it’s the same thing with their dentist,” says Dr. Gelman Keiles. “You’re lying back in a very vulnerable position — you have to have a really trusting feeling toward that person who is working on you.”
So how do you find the right dental chemistry with a doctor you’ve never met?
“The way the phone is answered in the office will give you an idea,” says Gelman Keiles. “Most offices are run based on the doctor’s personality. Ask what their education is — do they make accommodations for phobic patients? If you can find someone who can help identify what the fear is, often, they can eliminate it.”
Although Gelman-Keiles has a leg up as part of a growing trend of “cater to coward” dentists who hold dual psychology degrees, fret not if that magic combo isn’t present in your neighborhood.
“Every dental school in the country has a behavioral management of pain and medical behavioral program in place as part of their accreditation,” says Dr. Eugene Hiddelman. “All dentists within the last eight to ten years have received training in communication skills and handling patient anxiety.”
2. Come Clean (and Come In Clean!)
Like in any good relationship, honesty is the best policy. Hiding your fears or concerns is no way to get help. Armed with the knowledge of your specific issues — physical, mental and emotional — the doctor can find the best way to treat you to avoid stress.
“Many patients think the way to handle their anxiety or upset is to self medicate before the appointment,” says Hiddelman. “They take their Xanax and Valium or they take a drink and that’s really a mistake. Now they’re coming to the dentist with chemicals in them. They are much better off to explain their concerns to the dentist or their physician, rather than coming in as a wild card.”
Dentists offer a variety of pharmaceutical options, from the happy-hour-like nitrous oxide (which wears off within minutes) to sedatives (requiring a designated driver to get your loopy self home safe). Even IV and general anesthesia options might be just what your doctor orders, depending on how involved the procedure (and your anxiety!) is.
So don’t blow your chances on getting the good stuff by playing DIY doctor at home.
3. Use new tools to fight the pain.
Once you’ve met your match and made sure they’ve got the lowdown on your needs, see what goodies they’re packing in the office. The newest technologies cut down on some of the most distressing aspects of hitting the chair.
“Everyone is fearful of something different,” says Gelman-Keiles. “Some people are fearful of pain, some people are fearful of the smell, for a lot of people it’s not the needle, not the pain, it’s the sound.”
Some dentists use Waterlase®, a HydroPhotonics™ YSGG laser energy and water spray process that does not generate heat, vibration or pressure. From cavities to root canal, this can mean fewer shots, less anesthesia, less drilling, bleeding, post-op pain and swelling.
Dreading that telltale pre-filling pinch? Recent years have brought rub on lidocaine creams to dull gums pre-prick and come in tasty berry and pina colada flavors. No-needle Oraqix does the trick for more in depth teeth scaling and root planning as the numbing cream slides under the gumline via a blunt tipped instrument.
Future innovations like pepper-based pain killers which stop the ouch but ditch the fat numb tongued chipmunk look and a plasma brush that uses chemical reactions over mechanical grinding to fix cavities will add to appointment ease.
4. Just say spa.
Dental spas buck the tooth trend of antiseptic surroundings and drab décor. Soothing is key, with lush greenery, muted colors and voices that help you pretend you’re out for a spa day instead of in for a root canal. Flatscreen festooned appointment walls feature your favorite movies. Receptionists grill you for musical history, after appointment history, before presenting personal programmed IPods and noise cancelling headphones to dull the drillage.
No spas near you? No worries. Drive yourself to distraction with lavender and chamomile essential oil dabbed at temples and pulse points, nuke-able neck wraps, your favorite tunes or meditation tape and squeezable stress balls.
The point is, dentists understand and want to help. Your mouth not only isn’t the worst they’ve ever seen, it’s likely not the worst they’ve seen that day.
“Women have children and they don’t have time to go or they don’t have money for a long time because they were in school and they’re embarrassed,” says Gelman-Keiles. “You need to find someone whose attitude is ‘Welcome back! It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, it doesn’t matter what happened five years ago. You’re here now, let’s put out the fires and get you on the road to health.”