• July 12, 2011
  • Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Fear-often described as “the worst of all the emotions”. We all experience it every now and then, we all experience various severities of it, too. Whilst some fear is severely debilitating, rooted in our psychological make up and difficult to overcome without professional help, most people are likely to experience mild fear and apprehension about various events in life. 
I cannot offer advice on how to deal with severe fear, but I can help some of you breathe easier when faced with ‘the big bad dentist’. A lot of people I have spoken to are “afraid of the dentist”. This fear can usually be broken down to a fear of the unknown, a distrust and fear of not being safe in another person’s care, a fear of pain, a fear of needles, a fear of fees:) or any combination of those. Here are some things to remember which may help you sleep better the night before your next dental visit. 


The fear of the unknown and distrust can really come into play when seeing a dentist, especially if you are visiting a new dentist for the first time. 
1. Take your time to get to know your dentist and their team
2.Expect from the dentist and their team to be ready to spend time getting to know you and to be interested in your lifestyle. 
This may mean that the dentist will ask both personal and dental questions. Don’t be afraid to share as much information as you are comfortable with, health professionals are not allowed to share your information with other people, so noone else has to know, however, it may help your relationship with the dental team and make you feel more at ease in their care. 
3. The dental team can verbally run you through any procedures you may need to undertake in the future, so you can understand what is involved and what you will experience, this stops your imagination running wild the night before.
4. Once comfortable with your dental team, do not leave them and change dentists on a whym.
Changing a dentist means going through the feelings of uncertainty and distrust again. It means having to re-introduce yourself to another team and test how you feel about them. Often, it is worth going through logistic difficulty to maintain continuity of care and that “peaceful, easy feeling”. Think carefully before changing! 


Ask about the practice’s policies on patient safety! Most dentists and their teams will be more than happy to share with you what it is they do to make sure their patients are safe from physical harm as well as cross infections! Knowing the lengths good dental practices go through to ensure patient and staff safety can definitely help eliminate doubt about the quality of their care and your own safety during treatment. 


Sounds ridiculous, but when you are frightened, you may forget to breathe (I mean, really breathe).  You need deep, steady, long breathing to stay relaxed. So, at home, practice what is called 7/11 breathing (very similar to meditation and yoga): AS YOU BREATHE IN, COUNT TO 7 PAUSE BRIEFLY, AS YOU BREATHE OUT, COUNT TO 11 Those of you who meditate regularly can do this on demand, but for those who have never tried it, this may be difficult to do at first. You can practice it at home or at your office and you will eventually get better at it. You may need to start with 5/7 breathing and work your way up to 7/11. 


Fear is learnt! You may have been through and uncofmortable or stressful experience in the past or you may have seen or heard of someone go through one. This is what makes fear very tangible and personal and difficult to ignore or get rid of. In any case, keep telling yourself that the future experiences do not necessarily have anything to do with the previous ones. You have by now probably left the dentist whom you couldn’t trust or relate to and chosen a dentist who is more caring. Even in the same dentist’s practice, a different day is often a different clinical experience. Allow yourself to give your dentist another go. Try not to think about the negatives and think about the positives about your upcoming visit. For example, instead of thinking about the sounds and vibration, think about where the conversation with your dentist left off last time. Think about the personal news you may wish to update them with. If you are going to se the dentist about a toothache, think about the fact that the toothache will be gone after you see the dentist.


Last but not least, remember again that fear is learnt! Even the experiences of others can teach us to fear, which often happens very early in life. When talking to children about dental visits, avoid saying stuff like “you shouldn’t be afraid”, “you are so brave”, “it doesn’t hurt”. Explain what happens at the dentist without using emotionally charged words. It helps for children to know what to expect. If they still feel apprehensive during their visit, do not push them. Bring them to the dentist another day. Repeat as many times as you need to until they are happy to sit in the chair either in your lap or on their own.

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh
About The Author

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Catherine-Anne is a New Zealand-qualified dentist. She holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Sydney University and she has a broad range of experiences from working in both the public and private sector.


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