Not many people like going to the dentist, even for a basic cleaning and check-up. But healthy teeth and gums are very important to maintaining a healthy body. One of the most common reasons people avoid the dentist is out of fear. Whether they had a traumatic experience early in their life or a more general fear of having a stranger poking around inside your mouth.

Sedation dentistry

Some dentists specialize in sedation dentistry. This means that before the dentist begins work you’ll be comfortably sedated. Many dentists use nitrous oxide, a gas that you inhale that relaxes you to the point where the dental work no longer bothers you. The advantage of nitrous oxide is that it wears off quickly, meaning when your appointment is over you’ll be safe to drive home.

Other dentists use IV sedation. You’ll receive an intravenous drug that won’t knock you out completely but will put you in a twilight state between sleep and awake. You might not remember anything about your appointment after the drugs wears off. IV sedation is more involved than nitrous oxide because your vital signs are continuously monitored. Dentists also must go through intensive training to learn to perform IV sedation safely.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is when you slowly start to expose yourself on a much more gradual basis. You might start with the dentist simply looking around inside your mouth, then slowly progress with each appointment to where the dentist is able to work on your teeth. This type of therapy is done under the supervision of a licensed therapist or psychologist.

Medication

If your fear of the dentist is part of a larger pattern of anxiety, your dentist, family doctor, or psychiatrist might prescribe you a mild anti-anxiety medication. These drugs are meant to “take the edge off” and help you cope with the stresses of a dental visit. Anti-anxiety drugs aren’t a long-term solution to your anxiety and should be taken in addition to some type of psychotherapy. Also, many anti-anxiety drugs can be addictive, so it’s important to take them under a doctor’s close supervision.

Staying calm at the dentist

When you’re at your appointment, communicate with the dentist and other medical staff about your anxiety. The fear of dentists is a common problem and dental practices have many different ways of putting patients at ease. Some dentists have televisions you can watch, others provide comforting music. Also consider bringing noise-canceling headphones and your own music so you won’t hear the dental tools as much. Your dentist might provide other suggestions to keep you calm and relaxed.

Find the right dentist

Take the time to find a good dentist that you’re comfortable with. Your oral health is too important to neglect. The best way to find a good dentist is to do your research by looking at online reviews, ask your friends for referrals, and try different dentists until you find the one that’s right for you.