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How to Help When a Loved One Is Afraid of the Dentist

Dental anxiety is relatively common. Most of us feel some level of anxiety when it comes to the dentist. However, a few people have high levels of dental anxiety that keeps them from getting needed dental care. If a loved one has this level of anxiety, it can be hard to see them suffer the consequences: loss of teeth, poor health, and a risk of serious health conditions later in life, such as dementia, heart disease, and cancer.

But what can you do? There are actually ways that you can help people overcome their dental anxiety. They’ll be relieved, and they’ll be healthier. They’ll be happier, too.

Help a Loved One with Dental Anxiety

Recognizing the Signs of Dental Anxiety

How can you tell that your loved one has dental anxiety? They likely won’t admit it: they’ve probably learned that people don’t respond well to their feelings. Instead, watch for these signs:

  • Not scheduling dental appointments
  • Excessively fastidious oral hygiene  that they say means they don’t need to go to the dentist.
  • Scheduling an appointment that they cancel just before but don’t reschedule
  • Skipping the scheduled appointment. They may even go to the office, but hide in the bathroom or leave the waiting room early.
  • Difficulty sleeping or visible anxiety before an appointment.

If you notice these signs, it might be time to talk to them about their problem. But it’s important to do it right.

Approach with Love and Compassion

When you talk to people about their dental anxiety, it’s important to make sure you’re not making an accusation. If you confront them with the fact that they need to go to the dentist but they haven’t, they can become defensive and cut you off. It’s easy for the conflict to escalate.

Instead, emphasize that you are concerned about them. Tell them you want to spend many years with them, but you’re afraid that poor oral health could cut their years significantly. Even relatively young and healthy people can succumb to acute tooth infections.

Then emphasize that you want to help. Make sure they know they’re still in control and can still make their own decisions, you’re here to support them and help them do what will make them happy. Most people with dental anxiety feel shame and are unhappy with their oral health. Sometimes, this is even the sole reason why people avoid the dentist. Being able to see the dentist will actually make them happier.

Help Them Find a New Dentist

Your dentist matters when it comes to dental anxiety. Many people with anxiety can’t just go to any dentist, they need to find one they trust, feel comfortable around, and offers support for patients with anxiety.

Finding a dentist you can trust often means finding a dentist with a high degree of technical competence. Look for leading dentists in the area who are continually taking high levels of continuing education.

They also need to feel comfortable around a dentist, which means it’s a good idea to schedule a simple consultation first–no dental exam or anything, just a meet and greet.

Finally, make sure the new dentist offers support for patients with anxiety. Sedation dentistry is the most common support offered, and it can be critical to helping people overcome their anxiety. Sedation dentists should be trained by DOCS–Dentists for Oral Conscious Sedation–an organization dedicated to safe, effective dental sedation.

Go to the Dentist with Them

Finally, help your loved one make their dental visits by going to the office with them. They will appreciate the support. Plus, if they are being sedated, you have to drive them to and from, anyway. You might as well stay for moral support.

This may become less necessary as their level of comfort grows, but don’t abandon them until they volunteer that they don’t need you to stay.

Your Loved Ones Deserve Healthy Smiles

If you have a loved one who is struggling with dental anxiety, their oral health is likely suffering. This might be making them suffer more than you know.

But with a compassionate, supportive approach, you can help your loved one overcome their anxiety and finally get the dental care they need to stay healthy. At Doolin-Haddad Advanced Dentistry in Rochester, MI, our DOCS-trained dentists have extensive experience in helping people with dental anxiety. To learn how we can help you or your loved one, please call (248) 923-4155 today for an appointment with a sedation dentist.