If you suffer with a fear of the dentist then this is an understandable affliction that is likely linked to a number of bad experiences in your youth, or even vicarious learning (seeing other people go through a lot of pain). The thing is that dentists are often responsible for us being put through a lot of misery and having teeth wrenched out or filled in with filler or drilled into. Combine this with the clinical white coat they wear and the helpless position you find yourself in when you’re reclined and elevated on the dentist’s chair, and suddenly it stands to reason that you might be nervous when you’re called to the dentist.
However what’s important is that you overcome this fear, or that you at least learn to come to terms with it and work with it to ensure that you are still able to make it to the dentist without breaking into cold sweats. Otherwise you may find yourself putting off going to the dentist and making excuses to stay at home, which in turn can result in a variety of serious tooth problems that only get worse with time. While it may not always feel like it you see, it’s highly important that we remember that the dentist is trying to help us and that they are trying to improve our teeth. Those painful processes they put us through are necessary to prevent a lot more pain and more importantly various dangerous health problems. Dentists don’t just look at the state of your teeth, but of your oral health which can tell us a great deal about our overall health and which it is very important to look into. Neglecting to go to the dentist could mean for instance that a tumor in your mouth goes unnoticed which of course could be a fatal error to make.
Being the Dentist’s Pet
So how can you go about getting over that crippling fear of the dentist and what can you do to ease your terror? One thing you can do right away is to make sure that you do your best to look after your teeth. It sounds obvious, but of course it’s important to spend time brushing your teeth and flossing if you want to avoid having various procedures on your teeth. If you eat well, brush well, and stay away from fags and sugary snacks, then you will greatly decrease your chances of needing some kind of procedure and you will greatly decrease your reasons to fear the dentist. In fact you may find that the dentist starts to compliment your teeth and point out how straight and white they are, which can help you to learn to associate the dentist with positive experiences and praise.
This latter point about learning to associate the dentist with positive things is something you can use more too. This is called ‘positive association’ and it’s a form of classical conditioning as described by behavioral psychology. Just as you learned to associate the dentist with pain due to bad experiences, so can you also learn to associate them with positive experiences by asking for a lollypop after or by giving yourself some kind of treat after seeing the dentist each time – go shopping in the local area and pick yourself up something and you will start to look forward to going to the dentist. You can also use breathing techniques to help yourself feel calm and relaxed in their presence. Why do you think dentists give kids stickers after their appointments? Yes, basically you were conned into going as a kid…
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This means basically listening to the thoughts you are having that are causing you to get worked up and scared about your appointments, and then trying to replace these with more calming thoughts that will put your mind at ease. So for example instead of thinking ‘the dentist is going to rip my teeth out’, instead think ‘it’s just a routine check-up’. What can also help is to stop focussing on what might happen at the dentist and to instead start focussing on what might happen if you DON’T go and how your teeth will probably suffer. This can be a great motivator to go and get checked out…
Go to the Dentist
This might sound like a catch 22, but if you don’t go to the dentist then this will make you more and more frightened of the dentist as you will be building the event up in your mind. At the same time, if you only go to the dentist when you have some kind of problem, then it’s no wonder that you feel anxious when going. By going regularly it becomes a routine and mundane check-up, and you will be more than likely to escape scot-free. Make sure you do this often then and you will find it quickly loses its power over you.