Fear of dental visits stop Brits from getting oral care
National Smile Month starts on 13th May and runs until 13th June. Its aim is to raise awareness of oral health. Now you’re probably thinking “How does hypnotherapy relate to oral health?” Well, recent research has shown that for many Brits, a fear of dentists stops them from attending their regular check-ups and as a result, they have problems with their gums and teeth.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about dental phobias in more detail in this post.
Research conducted by Centre for Dentistry found that a third of Brits claim they fear a visit to the dentist and is one of the main reasons why they avoid going.
I once knew someone who had an extreme phobia of the dentist. They avoided going at all costs. The health of their teeth deteriorated over time and they experienced a lot of pain. But they still refused to go to the dentist. In the end, they elected to go into hospital, have a general anaesthetic and have all their teeth removed and replaced with false ones. Their phobia of the dentist cost them their teeth!
There are many reasons why people are scared of dentists. Perhaps you are familiar with some of them.
People with needle phobias quite often become fearful of treatment at the dentist because it typically involves an injection in the gums. For some people, they might have had a previously bad experience with the dentist which has made them fearful that something similar will occur again. For others, as a child, they might have learnt to fear the dentist from their parents or siblings. Some people have a sensitive gag reflex which makes dental appointments very unpleasant. Others don’t like the smell at the dentist. The sounds and sensations of the drill and other implements used throughout an appointment can cause issues for others. Maybe the up close and personal nature of a checkup with the dentist puts them off. For those who don’t follow the dentist’s advice to brush, floss and use teepee brushes daily might feel guilty and ashamed and worry about getting told off so decided to stay away.
Whatever the reason, the fear is very real and can stop people from taking good care of their teeth and gums.
Here are seven top tips to help you reduce your fear about going to the dentist:
Share concerns with your dentist. If you’re scared, let your dentist know so that they can tailor your appointments accordingly if possible. Some dental practices have specialists who work primarily with patients who have dental phobias. In addition to this, quite a number of dentists now are training in hypnosis to assist with dental anxiety as well as using it as a natural analgesia and anaesthesia.
Breathe. Breathing techniques help to trigger the relaxation response. Even if your breathing is fine, they are excellent, simple tools that you can use to help you feel more in control. 7/11 breathing is a popular one, whereby you breathe in to the count of 7 and out for the count of 11 but there are others too which you might find more suited to you. Find out more about breathing techniques.
Relax. Spend some time tuning in to your body and releasing any tension that you might have. A favourite technique of mine is tensing the muscles in your feet then relaxing them off, and systematically working your way up through the rest of the body. By tensing the muscles first, it makes it easier to relax the muscles afterwards.
Choose your focus. Become aware of what you are experiencing through your senses. Pick one of those things to focus on to the exclusion of everything else around you. Recognise that you get to choose what you focus your attention on and how good it feels to only have to think about one thing. Fully absorb yourself in the experience and notice everything about that one thing. So for example, if you were paying attention to a sound, notice it’s tempo, it’s pitch, whether it’s familiar, it’s volume, the regularity of the sound, what direction it’s coming from, is it constant. etc. This is something you can use when you are thinking negatively, feel stressed/anxious and can also be used when you’re in the dentist’s chair having some work done. In this latter scenario, you could also focus your attention on a part of your body furthest away from your mouth, so your feet would be a good choice. Focus on every detail of your feet. This acts as a distraction.
Safe place. This is another distraction technique. Imagine being in a room or a place in nature where nobody else goes but you that is safe, secure and that you feel at ease to be in. It can be somewhere you’ve visited at some point in your life or a complete figment of your imagination. Make it as vivid as you can in your mind. Meyerson & Uziel (2014) discuss in their paper on the application of hypno-dissociation for dental phobia, that one of their patients imagined that they were horse riding in the desert in Australia, something that she had experienced in the past and very much enjoyed. So really tailor it to your own needs and be creative!
Put your fears in a crate. Mayerson & Uziel (2014) instructed their dental phobic patients to imagine placing all their dental treatment worries, fears, and anxieties into an old crate, to lock it and to keep the key until it is needed. You can always go back to it later if required but for the time all of your worries are locked away, you can feel calmer whilst the treatment is happening.
Imaginal exposure. Spend some time imagining having a check-up at the dentist. Not all the worse case scenarios nor your perfect appointment but a more realistic representation of what happens. Imagine it as if you are actually there. It’s important that you are nicely relaxed while you do this. Notice the discomfort that you’re experiencing as you imagine it, how it plateaus and then starts to diminish the more you imagine the scenario.
These top tips can help you feel more relaxed and in control of visiting the dentist.
I’ve spoken and written a lot about how hypnotherapy helps with fears and phobias, in particular, medical phobias, so here they all are in one place:
Avoidance behaviours. In this video, I talk about how fear leads to avoidance behaviours and how they can make the problem worse.
Desensitisation. In this article, I talk about the evidence-based technique systematic desensitisation and how it is used to help reduce fear and other emotions involved in phobias.
The risk of medical phobias. In this article, I talk about how medical phobias can put your health at risk and endanger your life.
In addition to these, if your fear of needles is the driving factor in your dental phobia, then you will find the following videos and articles of interest:
Needle phobias. In this video, I talk about needle phobias, briefly touch upon my own experience of having this phobia, and how hypnotherapy can help change your experience of injections and blood tests.
My story. If you’re interested, you can have a read about what I experienced with my needle phobia, how I used hypnotherapy to overcome it and resulted in my donating blood for the very first time.
When I work with dental phobia clients, we delve deeper into the tips I’ve given above and explore other avenues too. If you wish to find out more about how hypnotherapy can help you with your dental phobia, please do get in touch.
Meyerson, J. & Uziel, N. (2014) Application of Hypno-Dissociative Strategies During Dental Treatment of Patients With Severe Dental Phobia. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Volume 62 (2)