Heather Grimes discusses useful tips and tricks to help change your perception of dental appointments.

Being afraid of the dentist might sound like a cliché but for many people this is a harsh reality. In fact, according to the Oral Health Foundation, it is estimated that around half of UK adults admit to having a fear of the dentist, with around 12% having an extreme phobia.

Whether you feel mild anxiety or an allconsuming fear that prevents you from attending  appointments completely, learning to overcome this nervousness will allow for regular check-ups, meaning that potential problems will be caught early before they escalate to something that requires extensive treatment, higher costs and sometimes pain.

Overcoming a fear is easier said than done but doing so can be extremely beneficial to both your oral and overall health. From working with and listening to many dentists over the last decade, here are my top tips for getting yourself on the path towards being comfortable in your dentist’s chair…

Use social media

Social media is a wonderful way of giving us the chance to peek into other people’s lives, but it’s also an excellent tool for allowing us to feel closer to people we’ve never met. Take, for example, the phenomenon of Mrs Hinch who has racked up more than two million followers (and counting) just by providing cleaning tips and talking to her followers on her Instagram
stories. She is adored by her ‘Hinch Army’ who regularly send her messages saying they feel as though they know her. Whether you’re a ‘hincher’ or not, think about the accounts you follow on social media and why you like them. For many of us, it makes us feel closer to the
person behind the account, as though we know them personally.

In the same way, you can use the power of social media to follow your own dental practice, or search for a new one if you aren’t currently registered or fancy a change. This allows you the opportunity to browse images of the practice and the team, see some of the dental work and the type of treatments the practice provides; you can even message them with questions if you want to. In this way, you can get to know your dental practice right from the comfort of your own home, which can help you to feel more at ease and ready to step through the doors for an appointment.

Get comfortable

Managing anxiety is often about learning to feel comfortable in certain situations. However, attending a dental practice for a check-up every six months doesn’t allow you to build up this required sense of ease, which can explain why so many people never really reduce their level of fear or worry around their appointments.

How you become comfortable somewhere can be down to personal techniques, but from listening to many dentists one of the top recommendations is allowing patients to come in to meet the team and have a look around the practice prior to booking an appointment. In doing so, this allows you to arrive safe in the knowledge that you won’t be having any treatment at all, it’s simply an exercise to familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Many dental practices encourage patients to do this if they feel it will help them, so just phone up and ask if and when this would be possible.

In the unlikey case that they say no, it’s probably not the right fit for you, so try somewhere else more understanding to your needs.

Build trust

Overcoming fear goes hand in hand with building trust. Once you are comfortable with the surroundings of the practice, you need to ensure that you trust and feel at ease with your dentist, too.

Ask if you can book a consultation rather than a dental check-up, and if it makes you feel more relaxed, perhaps request that this is conducted in an office or room other than the surgery itself. Tell the dental team that you are nervous about dental appointments and they will usually be more than happy to help you and suggest useful tips that have worked with other patients too. Remember, dental fear is extremely common and you won’t be the first patient to require help to overcome nerves, and you certainly won’t be the last!

Before you arrive, think about the things that worry or scare you most about the dentist and write down a list – these could be the fear of pain, not feeling in control, a gag reflex, worries about the unknown, or concerns about cost – and try to address these with the dentist to work out strategies together that will make you feel more relaxed.

Use this consultation time to ask the dentist lots of questions, because filling in the blank spaces in your mind will help you to feel more prepared for an actual appointment. Ask about how things work, what happens during a check-up, discuss signs you can use to stop treatment – such as holding up your hand– that will allow you to feel more in control, ask about their hobbies, anything at all that will make you feel safe and builds trust and rapport!

Distract yourself

When it comes to the appointment itself, even by putting the above into action you may still feel some butterflies. Distraction techniques can be really helpful here.

Some dental practices offer the ability to watch films or television, just ask them what they have on offer or what they can recommend if not. You may feel better by taking your own headphones and listening to music, an audiobook, or a meditation app during your appointment – just be sure to tell your dentist so that he or she knows.

Other ideas to try are fidget cubes/spinners or stress balls as these are small enough to hold and won’t get in the way but are also effective at helping you to focus your mind elsewhere.

Start small

Don’t feel like you need to book in for long appointments and lots of treatment all in one go. This can feel extremely overwhelming and can result in putting you off completely. Instead ask your dentist the best way to split up any required (or desired cosmetic) treatment into shorter appointments that are more manageable. A dental check-up, followed by a hygiene  appointment perhaps a week later is a great place to start – small and steady wins the race!

Dental fear is extremely common and you should never feel embarrassed about speaking up and telling your dental team about how you feel. Sometimes, simply knowing that your  dental team care and understand your anxieties is enough to set you on the right path towards overcoming them, so start by explaining your concerns and asking for their help and suggestions.

Remember that these are healthcare professionals who have your best interests at heart, they will never judge you and they will happily work with you to help you  to feel at ease during your time at the practice and after treatment, too.