By Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD  

The Toothboss,

Dental anxiety is common among seniors. It can stem from past negative experiences, fear of pain, embarrassment, or concerns about tolerating dental procedures. Fortunately, if you can identify what triggers your dental anxiety you can develop coping strategies.

Effective strategies for overcoming dental anxiety include:

Open communication: Have a conversation with your dentist about your fears and concerns. I’ve been able to help a number of patients over the years by clearly explaining procedures in an understandable way and answering any questions. It not only reassures the patient, but also helps establish trust and enhances the doctor/patient relationship.

Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and visualization can all promote a sense of calm and reduce stress before and during dental appointments. At our office, it’s not unusual for patients who experience anxiety to wait in their vehicles to do these exercises. We then either call them or walk out to the parking lot to get them.

Distraction techniques: Bringing headphones to listen to calming music or audiobooks during an appointment can help divert your attention away from dental treatment. Visual distractions also help. For example, each examination room at our practice has a window so patients can look outside during the appointment. We even have bird feeders that attract a wide range of birds. This has proven to be quite soothing to many patients.

Gradual exposure: You can start with non-treatment-related visits to the dental office to help you get comfortable, sort of like wading into the water before going in all the way. As you gradually increase your exposure to more involved procedures, it can help reduce and desensitize your dental anxiety over time.

Seeking support: For those who experience more severe anxiety, there are any number of resources for support. You can have a family member attend appointments with you. It’s not uncommon to have those family members in the examination room with you. Another option is to join a support group for individuals with dental anxiety. For those who have very serious anxiety, sleep dentistry can be an option.

Prioritizing preventive dental care: Perhaps the best strategy for managing anxiety is maintaining good oral hygiene habits between appointments. Regular brushing and flossing can help prevent dental problems and reduce the need for invasive treatments that can cause anxiety.

As a senior, we sometimes recommend you come more often than every six months for various reasons. Your dexterity with a toothbrush and floss may not be as good as it used to be. Seniors have more root surface exposure, which makes you more susceptible, or you have dry mouth from some medication you are on and the buildup of plaque and tartar is faster. Whatever the reason, you may be a candidate for having your teeth cleaned at three-, four- or six-month intervals. This also allows your dentist to detect issues early.

Conclusion: Dental anxiety is an issue for many seniors, but a manageable one. And it starts with a conversation with your dentist. By sharing your fears and concerns with your dentist, you are actually taking control of your dental health and that can alleviate some of the anxiety.

If dental anxiety is an issue for you, please give my office a call at 781-335-0604. Whether you’re a Toothboss patient or not, I’m happy to set up a non-procedural consultation to address your concerns.

About the Author: Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD is the owner of The Toothboss, 1121 Main St., South Weymouth. For more information, call 781-335-0604 or visit