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Odontophobia, or an irrational fear of the dentist and all things teeth-related, can affect up to 43% of children and 30% of adults. There’s this weird stigma surrounding dental anxiety – especially with adults – which not only makes them reluctant to seek treatment, but also gives the impression that they cannot go to anyone about their concerns.

I am one of those adults, and maybe some of you reading this are, too. I just want to say there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – why should we shame ourselves for something we (shouldn’t) shame children for (I recognize that some people do shame children, which probably contributes to odontophobia in adulthood).

However, since taking care of our teeth is important, this post is going to be full of tips and tricks to alleviate your anxieties (while recognizing it may not help everyone, I think it’s a good start. If you find your anxiety is severe enough, perhaps seeking professional guidance might be beneficial).

First, I think one should understand why they have dental anxiety. Here are some common ones, and some strategies to combat them.

  • Embarrassment:
    • We’ve all probably gone way too long without seeing a dentist (I think I went like 5 years without seeing one, both because of my anxiety and other excuses I had for myself, such as logistics of setting up appointments while away at college, etc).
      • I think it’s important to realize that no matter how bad you think your teeth are, it’s much better to get treatment sooner rather than later. At the end of the day, your dentist wants to help you, and the sooner you get treatment, the less intensive it will have to be. And remember, they’ve probably seen everything – things like gum disease are much more common than you’d think, and treatment (if started early) can quickly alleviate things.
      • Just know, it’s not the end of the world if you need more severe treatments like extractions, root canals, crowns, implants, etc. No one (that matters) will judge you, and most people probably won’t even notice.
        • An extraction may be better than a root canal, which are more expensive, painful, and aren’t foolproof in making sure you won’t need more work done anyway. In my case, I need some teeth extracted along with my wisdom teeth, but since they’re so far in the back and not even visible nor necessary for chewing, I elected to have them removed at the same time.
        • If you find yourself needing to decide things with a more prominent/important tooth, you may opt for any of the other options.
  • Sensory Issues:
    • This was another big one for me. I cannot stand the feeling of being trapped laying down as metal objects are being poked around in my mouth while my dentist says jargon I can’t understand. The sound and sensation drive me insane, and that’s from a neurotypical individual who is not on the spectrum – which can make sensory issues much more severe.
      • I researched dentists in my area that either specialized in patients with anxiety or sensory issues for children who have a harder time dealing with dental treatments. Once I found my dentist, I made it very clear and reiterated how bad my dental anxiety was (I’ve even made the joke that I’d need to be sedated just to get through a regular cleaning). Having them be aware of things will help them figure out what’s best for you. And you can let them know that you don’t want to be talked down to as if you’re a child, but still want more considerate and gentle treatment.
      • I’ve asked and received for things like being able to have my headphones in (as long as I can hear any directions I’ve been given). While this doesn’t distract me entirely from what’s going on in my mouth, it definitely helps. I’ve also asked for weighted blankets to help ground me. My partner was even allowed to hold my hand for one of my fillings. My dentist also realized that the actual look of my teeth was something that caused me distress, so she always made sure to tell me when it was safe to look at the screen. It’s also always okay if you need a break – when I was first getting back on the horse with my dental treatment, I’d be so overwhelmed from everything happening in my mouth that I’d be close to tears.
  • Money:
    • This is another big one. I recognize that dental treatment is a privilege – especially if you don’t have insurance or a plan with generous coverage.
      • While I don’t have a surefire solution for this, you can always ask if your dentist has payment plan options. This also goes back to any earlier point about getting treatment as soon as possible so that you won’t have to pay for more expensive treatment down the line.
  • ASMR:
    • Now hear me out. I know there’s this stigma and stereotyping involving ASMR videos, but I’ve found they can be really helpful for me.
      • When I’m in the chair, I put on some ASMR because the sound is intentionally made to be really stimulating to your ears, which helps distract me.
      • If you’re severely anxious about your appointment, you can look up videos of dentists going through exactly what they do during a cleaning and being really gentle so that you can better predict and prepare for what’s about to come.
      • Another related solution is to watch YouTube videos of other adults sharing their stories of dental phobia so that you see you’re definitely not alone.

I’m 22 years old and I just now started taking back control over my dental anxiety at the beginning of 2021. When I was a teenager, I remember refusing braces because I knew I could not handle that kind of overstimulation of things happening in my mouth. I also remember getting through high school without needing to get my wisdom teeth out, thinking I dodged a massive bullet. (I just found out within the last few months that I’m a late bloomer and they are definitely coming in now. To make matters worse, my x-rays showed me that they’re the textbook version of impacted.

I know that I’ll never be able to get over my dental anxiety completely, and that’s okay. I just need to be okay enough to get my treatments done so I don’t have to go through the pain of deep cleanings and several fillings again. Hopefully my tips help you get over your anxiety, as well.

Sarah Taphom

Oglethorpe '22

Communications Major | Women's and Gender Studies Minor HC @ Oglethorpe Marketing and Recruitment Director | Twitter Admin angry feminist killjoy | soft writer girl
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