I don’t take it personally when I meet a new patient for the first time and they reveal that a dentist office (not mine of course, but in general) is not their favorite place on Earth. I wish I could say I’m shocked to hear this, but unfortunately I hear it somewhat often.
When I do hear this, my goal instantly becomes to change their perspective and hopefully make the office their new favorite place. Actually, the fear of going to the dentist can be a real problem for most people. I have some tips, with anxious patients in mind, on how you can make your visit a relaxing one. So why do people fear a trip to the dentist? I have a few theories.
- Anxiety of the unknown. People have anxiety when it comes to the unknown. When you sprain your ankle, for example, you more or less know what’s wrong, and you don’t mind going to the doctor. With a trip to the dentist, you’re never entirely sure what the visit will reveal, even though if you take care of your teeth, chances are very good you won’t have any problems.
- An invasive procedure. Dentistry is an invasive procedure, and you’re awake for the process. While we may use a local anesthetic, you are going to be conscious for the procedure. In today’s society, when you are protective of your personal space, that can be a little unsettling.
- A previous bad experience. A person may have had a bad experience in the past that’s giving them anxiety. I personally had a bad trip to the dentist at an earlier age, and I know what happens if things don’t go quite right. It’s tough to erase those memories.
So how can you alleviate that fear of the dentist? Here are some tips:
- Consider a small family practice. It helps to alleviate fear of the unknown if you can establish a good rapport with your dentist. A smaller practice gives you the opportunity to build a connection in a more intimate surrounding.
- Take baby steps. Be sure to tell your dentist that you want to take it slow. Start with a simple cleaning and checkup. If you need more treatment or procedures, talk with your doctor and understand the procedure and process. Together, come up with a treatment plan you feel comfortable with. Understand how it’s done and what you should expect.
- Switch to a healthier diet. Don’t keep drinking soda and eating sugary foods. As you start to take better care of yourself, that fear of the dentist will be replaced by a desire to keep yourself in great shape.
- Build on great experiences. Talk to your dentist, and let them know how you’re feeling. Tell them you want to take it slow, and make the first experience a great one, followed by another great experience. Build on each one.
- Find a dentist you can trust. I can’t emphasize this enough. The more comfortable you feel with the dentist, the more comfortable you’ll feel in their chair. Interview your dentist before you make an appointment. Learn about their approach. Do they take time for your questions? Do they care about you?
- Make it part of the routine. We blog a lot about how it takes a while to build a good habit. Make going to the dentist a habit.
- Understand the consequences. The longer you wait, any problem you might have could become worse. Face up to the consequences of putting off a visit.
- Schedule your appointment. This may seem obvious, but go ahead and schedule the appointment. Right now. If you get something on the calendar, and you’re dentist gives you a friendly reminder to come in for a visit, it may just be the push you need.
I’ve built my practice around providing a relaxing, comfortable environment, where people feel at home. I’ve really made an effort to help patients overcome their anxiety by using many of the practices I mentioned above. If you have any tips as well, please feel free to leave your suggestions!