“I’m going to pass out the minute I walk through the door. I’ll be panicking, crying, or shaking uncontrollably.”
Many people have a fear of losing control and/or making a fool out of themselves if they managed to visit a dentist. You may be worried about crying uncontrollably, or fainting, or having a panic attack.
Other people are not so much scared of losing control or making a fool out of themselves, but are deathly afraid of panic attacks themselves. This is sometimes referred to as “panic disorder” (a term I don’t particularly like), and you would experience this in other situations as well – not just dentist-related. If you fear having panic attacks, go to our panic attacks page!
If you’re scared of crying uncontrollably, fainting, or having a panic attack, it’s probably because you’re trying to be too brave!
Bravery has no place in overcoming dental phobia – courage does.
Don’t try and suppress your fears, but express them openly instead. You may find that accepting the anxiety and just going with the experience actually reduces your sense of panic. Fighting anxiety tends to add fuel to the fire. Keep in mind that you’re not dealing with a life-or-death situation, even though it might feel like that right now – the reality is that you’re free to leave anytime should you not feel comfortable with the situation.
It’s OK to be bawling your eyes out or to be shaking like a leaf – if a dentist reacts negatively, at least you’ll know it’s not the right one for you. It may help you to put yourself into the dentist’s shoes – how would you react if someone who’s clearly extremely frightened and upset arrived at your practice? I’d like to think with compassion and understanding. If you should be unfortunate enough to meet a dentist who is clearly unsympathetic or even thinks it funny, run! There are tons of dentists out there who treat people the way they would like to be treated themselves.
Frequently, dental phobia sufferers are under the impression that they have to “please” dentists by playing the perfect patient. Not so! Nobody condones aggressive behaviour, but you’re perfectly entitled to have a panic attack, cry, or whatever takes your fancy.
Communication is the key!
Having talked to quite a few specialists in the area, it would appear that aggressive behaviour among people with dental phobia is (thankfully) extremely uncommon.
The more common pattern is one of over-compliance coupled with a reluctance to communicate your needs – a frustrating experience for both dental phobia sufferers and (willing) dentists.
So – communicate! The communication doesn’t have to be verbal, almost anything will do as long as you don’t simply freeze. If you have a tendency to freeze, make sure you’ve got everything you want to communicate to your dentist written out. And if you’re not sure you can hand this written communication to your dentist, get it to them beforehand (by e-mail, get a confirmation before you go in, or by writing a letter to the practice – again make sure they’ve seen it.).
Dentists are not mind-readers – and the most common complaint from dentists regarding phobic patients is that they won’t let them know what they’re scared of, or when they’re feeling scared.
The main reason why even very caring dentists find phobic patients stressful is that they won’t let them know what’s going on in their heads. So – whenever there’s something you’re worried or fearful about, no matter how mundane, please let your dentist know about it. Your dentist cannot put your fears at rest unless s/he knows what your fears are.
Let your dentist know what your fears are, either verbally or in writing, to help ensure that a stress-free time is had by all! Don’t worry about having too many fears – many fears are easily addressed and finding a solution shouldn’t take up much time.
The last word goes to Fraser Hendrie from Craigentinny Dental Practice in Edinburgh (excerpt from the free Dental Fear e-course):
“So many phobic patients that I have helped over the years have told me about their previous visits to the dentist where they felt short of breath, had temperature swings, felt faint and even occasionally passed out altogether. This makes these poor people feel like they are in a blind panic which of course did nothing to help their mental state or reduce their anxiety…
You may be familiar with that feeling as it comes on and think “oh no here we go again…” it literally is like going over the top of a rollercoaster and down the first big drop.
In the dental chair this reaction is totally counter productive but as it is an in built almost “animal” instinct we can do little to stop it once it starts so you are simply along for the ride. You may be able to reduce its effects but you cant stop it until it has run its course.
So what do you do? The trick is to avoid tipping over the top in the first instance, which means taking your time with a new dentist and slowly (and I do mean slowly) building your confidence one step at a time.
The very worst thing you can do is ask the dentist to do all of your treatment in one session to ‘get it over with.’ You will have the fight or flight response and this will almost certainly confirm all of the negative things that your inner voice has been saying. Do you think this will help your dental fear on the long term or make it worse? Yes you have got it….. it will make it worse. So please if you do nothing else follow the next piece of advice:
Work with your dentist to take small steps over a series of visits. You can then go at a pace that is comfortable and hopefully avoid setting the fear rollercoaster in action. Each time you go to the dentist and have a GOOD experience the positive internal voice that tells you that this is all ok and nothing bad will happen will be reinforced.”