Don't Panic! Understanding Panic Attacks At The Dentist
Visiting the dentist is a common fear experienced by many individuals; however, for some people the fear can overwhelm them and result in panic attacks. If you suffer from anxiety at the thought of visiting the dentist, read below to understand more about your situation and steps you can take to manage it:
Recurring Panic Attacks
Panic attacks aren't usually standalone occurrences; rather, they are recurring events that occur with people who are prone to anxiety and stress. Typically, panic attacks are a chronic condition that won't go away with time. As such, you have to manage your stress and anxiety in order to overcome your fears.
Recurring panic attacks are usually classified as one of the following:
- Agoraphobia – This means that you consciously avoid places or situations that have triggered panic attacks in the past and are difficult to escape from. If you have a fear of dental practices, agoraphobia means that you would make every effort to avoid visiting a dentist in the future.
- Panic disorder - This condition isn't just an underlying fear of a particular scenario; rather, with panic disorder you actually fear the possibility of a panic attack occurring. This is usually a harder problem to manage as you work up a high degree of anxiety without any external trigger being present.
Why Panic Attacks Happen
Panic attacks usually begin at a young age and are due to a lack of information or understanding about a particular situation. With dental clinics, many patients experience anxiety about the following:
- Equipment used, particularly the drill.
- Experiencing pain when a tooth is removed or a filling is put in place.
- Oral injections and fears of local anesthesia.
- The intrusiveness of dental procedures.
- The general "feel" of a dental clinic.
If these fears are allowed to develop, they can cause you to suffer from panic attacks well into your adult life. The reason for this is that your feeling of anxiety become attached to the fear itself, meaning any time you are faced with a similar situation, anxiety and stress will set in.
As such, panic attacks act as a protective mechanism against your fear. They are your brain's way of telling you that something isn't right and making an attempt to stop you from putting yourself in that situation. Of course, all of the fears are misguided and avoiding the dental clinic because of previous anxiety will only cause further problems in the long run.
How to Get Over Your Anxiety
With panic attacks, there are no quick solutions to getting over your fear. As they are recurring, your brain has adapted to your triggers and has developed a protective reflex to manage them. However, by adopting a long-term strategy you can significantly reduce your panic attacks and make your trips to the dentist that much easier.
The first thing to do is to learn as much as possible about panic attacks. Hopefully this article has given you a starting point; however, to get over your anxiety you'll need to understand what is happening on a much deeper level. Once you understand how your body is reacting to certain situations, you can begin to overcome your anxiety and make strides towards handling your fear.
Nearly all panic attacks are due to irrational fears, so it's important that you learn as much as possible about your specific triggers. If you are worried about dental equipment for example, do as much research as possible to understand why dentists use specific tools and what they are using them for. It helps to speak to a qualified dentist at this stage in order to understand directly what it is they are doing during your procedures. If you feel confident enough, you can even ask for a quick demonstration—for example, you may ask a dentist like Robert Tartaglione DDS to show you how the drill works.
Finally, it's important that you manage your anxiety going forward. Maintaining a regular diary of your panic attacks will help you understand specifically what is causing them, whilst allowing you to keep track of their frequency. Keeping track of your panic attacks is also a great way to control them as you will be much better prepared in the future if you know what to expect.