An interesting article titled “Coping skills for facing dental fears” appears in the February 2017, issue of JADA, vol. 148, issue 2. The article discusses some things you can do if you are afraid of the dentist to help you get through the entire appointment.
The first thing the article suggests is to speak up and let the office and dentist know you have dental fear. You can address any coping skills you have used in the past and the dental team may suggest new coping skills that can be tried. You ask the dentist to talk you through what is going to be done for your treatment prior to him or her doing it to help further put your mind at ease. If you need to take a break during treatment you can agree on a signal to use with the dentist, such as raising your hand, so treatment can be temporarily stopped.
There are various ways to distract yourself during treatment. You can listen to music during treatment and occupy your hands by playing with a stress toy. In addition, you can imagine and visualize in your mind you being somewhere else more positive that you enjoy.
It is also possible to practice breathing techniques. You can breathe deeply anywhere and try different breathing exercises. For example, you can try breathing in deeply while counting slowly to 5.
Other ways to counter dental fear include getting in tune with your body through relaxation. One way to relax is to slowly move from one muscle group to the next before treatment begins, tensing the muscles in each group for 5 to 7 seconds then relaxing for 20 seconds. You can practice this exercise prior to your appointment so you can be prepared to use it.
For some it may be difficult to be able to effectively work on breathing techniques and relaxation prior to their dental treatment. This is particularly an issue for those who may have home environments that are stressful and emotionally charged, and for some this could be caused by their partner or significant other. Thus another way to cope with dental fear may be to work on issues at home and use couples counseling to get relationships in order. It may take time to talk through all the problems and to improve your relationship, but having a stable home environment and a supportive partner may also help you cope with your dental fear.
Your dentist and dental team may be able to suggest other ways and strategies to overcome dental fear so that you can receive the dental treatment you need.