Staying calm in anxious times ? Twelve tips for nervous patients

The COVID-19 pandemic generated a wave of anxiety which rippled through almost every community. What initially started as a health crisis, rapidly escalated affecting global economies with unprecedented lockdown measures. 

A recent report from the Lancet – which is among the world’s oldest and best-known general medical journals – highlighted how the pandemic is now exacerbating socio-economic and ethnic inequalities driving down oral health standards.

In the coming years we are likely to see increased dental-related issues within the most vulnerable groups including those on low-incomes and the marginalised with multiple morbidities.

With heightened anxiety levels additional stress is unfortunately being placed on patients already nervous about attending the dentist. According to the British Dental Association and estimated 25pc of people exhibit some form of anxiety before appointments.

Remember you are not alone, and the following list outlines common fears and difficulties experienced:

  • Fear of injections
  • Pain during dental treatment, or the sound of the drill
  • Feeling trapped and vulnerable in the dentist?s chair
  • Being lectured or told off
  • Embarrassment
  • Gagging/ Choking
  • Being a survivor of abuse or trauma
  • Fear of what a dentist might say or find
  • General anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Invasion of personal space
  • Loss of control
  • Previous trauma to the head and neck

If you suffer from any of the above or are experiencing issues with anxiety more broadly, please read our twelve top tips below when considering your next appointment:

  1. Book your appointment early – A good solution to prevent fear building throughout the day is to book your appointment early, at some stage in the morning. This also helps you to remain free of distractions and to look forward to your day following the appointment.
  1. Visit regularly ? It?s often best to tackle fears head on, and frequently the more familiar we are with something the less fearful we become. Frequent visits enable you to acclimatise to dental surroundings over time, rather than putting off appointments letting the fear mount up. An additional benefit of this approach is you are less likely to encounter serious issues which are exacerbated by neglect and result in more complex procedures. Its always wise to book follow up appointments straight away to prevent giving yourself a reason to delay or opt-out.
  1. Try slow dentistry – Fears and anxieties can be stimulated by certain settings and environments and being rushed only serves to drive up anxiety levels. Noisy, busy and hectic settings also stimulate the fear sensors. Slow dentistry is a practice which focuses on slowing down the whole process promoting patient safety, well-being, comfort and understanding. 
  1. Vocalise your fears  Open up and tell us about your fears. Talking things through is a positive process for many patients improving their understanding of procedures and allaying fears. A frequent trigger of fear is related to pain, and often associated with a genuinely painful experience in younger life. However, the dental procedures have improved significantly in recent years, providing better environments and treatment options, more conducive to stress and pain-free experiences. It may also help to have a more thorough understanding of your treatment, discussing key concerns. Explaining why the experience is difficult can help empower patients to gain greater control of the experience.
  1. Practice relaxation techniques – Relaxation exercises including breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation help release stress from the body. Familiar and comforting music as well as engaging reading material also help many patients. However, we can advise those experiencing strong phobias about sources of additional medication to help them through their treatment.
  1. Find the right dentist – Patient care is hugely important when it comes to managing health and well-being. Within dentistry is it particularly important for surgeries to provide a calm, compassionate and caring approach to patients, especially those experiencing anxiety and fear. Find a dentist who elevates your experience and provides a level of care and attention to detail which you require.
  1. Discuss a stop signal-  It is wise to agree a stop signal before treatment begins if you feel particularly anxious. This lets the dentist know the patient is uncomfortable and would like relief. It also passes control back to the patient making them feel more relaxed about the treatment. 
  1. Take moral support – Take a friend with you to your appointment who can provide moral support during your wait and potentially throughout the check-up and treatment. It may also be worth taking your favourite pillow or back cushion to help you breathe more easily, and a blanket over your body can be comforting.
  1. Eat accordingly – Food can play a large role in your mood and stress levels. When you are preparing for a dentist appointment, avoid caffeine, chocolate, and soda. These can all cause you to feel jittery and ill-at-ease. Recommended foods include those high in protein, because these are known to produce a calming effect on the mind and body. Also avoid anything high in sugar which can cause uncontrollable feelings of excitement or energy which can easily turn into nervousness or fear.
  1. Test the water – Consider arranging a meet and greet visit before engaging in treatment to see if you feel comfortable with the surroundings, the dentists and standard of care. 
  1. Do your homework – Its easy to search online nowadays and read multiple reviews. Do your homework and find a clinic which excels in customer care and prioritises the patient experience above all else.
  1. Reward yourself – Reward yourself and arrange an enjoyable activity after the visit so you have something to look forward to. Looking ahead can help propel us from the moment.

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