Dear Dr. Reichwage;
I'm 47 years old and put off going to the dentist. I had a bad childhood experience, so I always wait until I HAVE to go. I want to overcome this. Is there help for me? Jim K.
Jim, dentistry has made huge advances since your childhood, but you still suffer from dental anxiety. People assume this anxiety is pain-related, when it may be a claustrophobic response to feeling trapped in the dental chair. Rapid heartbeats or muscle tightness are normal symptoms of anxiety or stress. Your mind can mistake these as danger signals, instead of signs of mental discomfort.
Try the following, and some dentists, depending on your medical history, may consider nitrous oxide gas or medications for relaxation or light sleep during your appointment:
• schedule a consult and develop a plan with your dentist
• your dentist will undoubtedly involve you in your diagnosis and treatment choices, and explain what is being done, which will help you feel more in control and involved, and should significantly diminish your anxiety
• schedule appointments when you are not hurried or otherwise stressed, use headsets with a favorite tape or CD, (many dentists offer these and/or movies during treatment), ask to get up periodically
• breathe from your diaphragm for deeper relaxation, and picture yourself in a favorite place.
If your dental team is supportive of your attempts to overcome this anxiety, but none of these methods assist you, you may want to consider seeking professional help from a qualified psychologist.
The lack of dental care is not to be taken lightly: it can diminish the strength of your immune system, making your body more susceptible to major illnesses like cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and for women, low birth-weight babies. Good luck, and feel free to email me if you need more help.