Maida Smiles (W. London)

Tel: 020 3974 1777

15 Sep

Staying calm in anxious times? Twelve tips for nervous patients


Twelve tips for nervous patients

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 socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities, driving down oral health standards.

In the coming years, we will likely 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, an 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 and letting the fear mount up. An additional benefit of this approach is that you are less likely to encounter serious issues exacerbated by neglect, resulting in more complex procedures. It’s always wise to book follow-up appointments immediately to prevent giving yourself a reason to delay or opt-out.
  1. Try slow dentistry. Certain settings and environments can stimulate fears and anxieties, and being rushed only drives up anxiety levels. Noisy, busy, and hectic settings also stimulate the fear sensors. Slow dentistry is a practice that focuses on slowing down the whole process and 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 is often associated with a genuinely painful experience in younger life. However, dental procedures have improved significantly in recent years, providing better environments and treatment options, more conducive to stress and pain-free experiences. Discussing key concerns may also help you gain a more thorough understanding of your treatment. 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, it is 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 the level of care and attention to detail you require.
  1. Discuss a stop signal—If you feel particularly anxious, it is wise to agree on a stop signal before treatment begins. 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 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. Avoid caffeine, chocolate, and soda when preparing for a dentist appointment. These can all cause you to feel jittery and ill at ease. Recommended foods include those high in protein because they are known to produce a calming effect on the mind and body. Also, avoid anything high in sugar, which can cause uncontrollable 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 the standard of care.
  1. Do your homework. Nowadays, it’s easy to search online and read multiple reviews. Do your homework and find a clinic that excels in customer care and prioritises the patient experience above all else.
  1. Reward yourself – Arrange an enjoyable activity after the visit so you have something to look forward to. Looking ahead can help propel us from the moment.

Explore dental sedation as a solution.