I know, I know... I told you all that this second episode of the dental fear blog post would be out last Tuesday.
I don't really have a good excuse. So... let's get started!
Part 2: Dealing with a Dental Phobia
If you're already scared of the dentist, you know how hard it can be even to pick up the phone and dial the dentist's number. Your tooth is throbbing, getting worse day by day, and yet enduring that ever increasing pain in your face is somehow better than stepping foot within a 100 yard radius of a dental office.
The good news? Well, if your fear stems from a bad experience years and years ago, dentistry has changed A LOT in the last little while. But before we get into the details on what's changed for the better (and for the easier-on-you), let me just paint a word picture for you of what going to dentist is like nowadays.
First, after you've worked up the courage to call the dental office, a kind voice will answer the phone and say "Hi this is so and so from so and so-dental, how can I help you?"
Just breathe. You've got this. All you gotta say is that you've got a tooth that you want someone to look at.
What will then ensue is a number of other questions about your symptoms that will help the dental team understand what might be going on before you ever step foot in the door. After you've answered all his or her questions, they will find a time that works for you to come in.
Honestly, just this first step sometimes is half the battle. Here's why. Much of fear is just not knowing. And when we don't know what lies ahead, we tend to create these narratives within our minds to help ease the uncertainty. But when you've been traumatized in the past, those narratives unfortunately tend to go haywire, creating a horrible, but false, prediction of what's going to happen when you pick up that phone and call the dentist. Once we've called and made our appointment, it means we've taken action and control of the situation. Doing anything that gives you a sense of control is scientifically proven (read Charles Duhigg's Smarter Faster Better for more info) to instil self-motivation within you.
When you show up for your appointment, feel free to bring a significant other or good friend for moral support. Most, if not all, dental professionals will let someone come with you - even right into the examination. You may have to fill out some paperwork if its been a while since you've been to that dentist, or if its your first time at the clinic.
Typically, x-rays are made first - the assistant taking the x-rays isn't qualified to make diagnoses, so you'll have to wait until the dentist takes a look at them before getting any answers (trust me, you'll be curious about the results as soon as you hear the *beep* and see the x-ray show up on the screen - try to be patient and this will all be over soon!)
Sometimes, photographs of your teeth are taken as well. Once all the data is collected, the dentist will come and greet you and get to know you.
***THIS IS A GREAT TIME TO LET THE DENTIST KNOW, IN PERSON, THAT YOU HAVE A PHOBIA.
He or she will take this into consideration as they take a look at your head, neck and mouth. Afterwards, many visual aids, such as photographs and digital x-rays, are typically used to communicate any tooth or gum problems you may have.
After that, you'll have an opportunity to book the next appointment. Depending on the dentist, you may have had some sedation options recommended for you. If you have a true dental phobia, having your first treatment done under sedation is a great idea as it will allow you to successfully endure a dental procedure. The more this happens, well... it's like exposure therapy - if you succeed in enough dental appointments, your fear will greatly diminish or even disappear.
Here are some of the things that have made dentistry a WHOLE lot easier (even compared to 10 years ago)
- many dentists have access to magnification and LED illumination right on the heads. This makes it so they can see WAY better.
- the topical anesthetics have improved significantly. These help A LOT with making the injection either painless, or close to painless. In my experience, many patients are no longer aware that I've used freezing on them until after the fact.
- certain dentists have access to technology that drastically expedites certain treatment modalities (e.g. same day crowns)
- the anesthetics used nowadays are associated with way fewer allergies than the freezing of yore. A newer anesthetic called Articaine has really seemed to help some of my patients (who have trouble getting frozen normally) become profoundly numb.
- enhancements in visualization and patient education - nowadays, it's so easy for the dentist to communicate with you exactly what the problem is... and then SHOW you the problem. The technology available now is unbelievable: from microscopes with live video feeds displayed on the ceiling to tiny intraoral cameras that can fit in any part of the mouth, the dentist's ability to communicate with you has been enhanced greatly.
-the list goes on.
Honestly, just booking that first appointment to get checked is the most critical thing I've said today. That will get you farther in your fight against dental fear than any other tip here. Take back the reigns of your phobia, and make one small choice that will put you back into control.
Good luck my friends!