Being 'afraid of the dentist' may mean different things to different people. It will probably help if you work out just what it is that worries you most. Maybe the sounds and smells bring back memories of bad experiences as a child, or the thought that having treatment will hurt. The good news is that more and more dentists now understand their patients' fears, and with a combination of kindness and gentleness can do a great deal to make dental treatment an acceptable, normal part of life.
Dental techniques have improved so much over the last few years, that modern dental treatment can now be completely painless. Despite this, most people still feel a little nervous at the thought of going to the dentist.If you have not been to see a dentist for some time, you will probably find that things have improved a lot since your last visit. The general attitude is likely to be more relaxed, the dental techniques and safety procedures will be much better, and the equipment will be more up to date.
Many dentists today offer some form of treatment for nervous patients. The first fear to deal with is the fear of admitting to other people that you are afraid of dental treatment. If you can discuss it with your friends or colleagues you are likely to find someone else who has similar problems, and who may be able to recommend a dentist to you. A dentist who is personally recommended by another nervous person is usually a very good choice.
Years ago it was normal for people to need fillings every time they went to their dentist, but things have changed for the better now. With the help of your dentist and hygienist, the aim now is for healthy teeth and mouths that stay healthy. Using a fluoride toothpaste will help to strengthen your teeth and prevent decay. Therefore, you may be surprised at how little treatment you need.Teeth are for life and can last a lifetime if they are looked after properly. If you can get your mouth into good shape, with the help of the dentist and dental hygienist, you should need less treatment and there will be less for the dentist to do in the future.It is important to keep up your regular visits to the dentist, not only to monitor tooth decay, but also to help prevent gum disease. Once your mouth is healthy, your visits to the practice will often just be easy sessions for checking and cleaning.
Most dentists today offer some form of treatment for nervous patients, whether they work in the National Health Service or privately. The NHS covers most treatments necessary to treat nervous patients. The main advantage of private practice is that more time can be spent with you to help you feel relaxed.
There are various methods available, and it will depend which methods the practice is experienced with and which you feel would help you most. Relaxation techniques can often be learned from specialist teachers or at home and can be very useful in controlling anxiety (See our leaflet 'Tell Me About Relaxation & Sedation').Many practices offer several types of sedation, including inhalation ('gas and air') and intravenous (by injection). Other practices offer hypnosis and relaxation techniques. You would learn these techniques, which would allow you to gain control over your feelings of distress or fear.Counselling is another way of dealing with feelings of anxiety. This is usually carried out by a member of the practice team, in a room away from the surgery. You would be encouraged to discuss your fears so that they may be dealt with and overcome.
General anaesthetics are now only rarely available for routine treatment. If a general anaesthetic is needed, patients are referred to hospitals or specialist clinics where the necessary safety equipment is available.
As you get to know and trust your dentist, hygienist and other members of the practice you will find your fears begin to lessen. In time you will gain control over your fears, and dental care can become a normal part of your life.
There are many organisations that help people suffering from phobias. Most of them also offer help to people nervous of the dentist because it is a very common problem. Contact the British Dental Health Foundation's Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188 to discuss your fears and find out about other organisations to contact.