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Dental fear: 4 steps for nervous patients

Every week in Edinburgh, I see patients who suffer from some degree of dental anxiety. A huge part of my job, and the bit I really care about, is helping nervous patients to feel more relaxed. I’ve come up with a few strategies for those with anything from mild apprehension to a full dental phobia.

It's thought that one in ten people in the UK suffer from dental phobia - so I often think of all the people who I don't see because their fears are too great. There are 4 techniques which I find make all the difference for the majority of my nervous patients:

1. Don’t overthink it!

Our minds have a fantastic capacity to twist logic and heighten our fear. This is especially true of coming to see the dentist. If you haven’t been to the dentist in years, simply book the appointment and turn up. Nothing else! No incessant Googling, worrying, overthinking and ruminating.

I cannot tell you how many times I have met a patient for the first time and at the end of the appointment the look of joy and sheer relief on their faces is amazing as they blurt out “that was easy”, “that was nothing like as scary as what I imagined”, “why was I awake all night worrying about that?!”.

At City Health Clinic you will walk in the door to an airy and bright waiting room, be greeted by a very friendly receptionist, fill out a form, be greeted by another friendly face - the dentist. Not a scary grumpy monster, just a normal, smiling, happy, empathetic human being who will merely look at your teeth and tell you what needs to be done, if anything.

JOB DONE! That's it! Simple. Cue you skipping back out to the waiting room feeling lighter than air and so proud of yourself for facing your fear and realising it was completely manageable!

2. Book Online.

The hardest step is always the first step isn’t it?

Actually picking up the phone to make the call and book the appointment can be the biggest blocker. Perhaps half-fearing that the receptionist will be rude to you when she hears you haven’t been in years (which she won’t by the way!) and even half-hoping that nobody will answer!

You can actually book the appointment online which I think really helps you ease into the process and overcome that very first hurdle. Sometimes putting a face to a name's useful too - have a look at the photos and information about the dentists so you feel you know a little about the dentist you are going to see.

3. Do not listen to other people!

It’s not a very exciting story to bring back to the office to say “I had my teeth checked, the dentist was nice, everything was fine” is it? No. People love a drama! People love to tell you their hugely exaggerated and often completely untrue dental horror stories! Which likely have absolutely no relevance to your dental problem. Negative people shout the loudest: please, please ignore them! When I was pregnant with my son every loud mouth on the planet wanted to tell me their “horrific” birth story!

One classic dental example is wisdom tooth removal. Lower wisdom teeth are tricky to remove and often require a referral to an oral surgeon. Upper wisdom teeth are an absolute cinch to remove! When I see “upper wisdom tooth extraction” in my appointments book I am delighted. I think "nice one, put the kettle on, this will be done in 10 minutes and then we can have a coffee break!". However, in enters the nervous wreck of a patient who looks ghostly white because “Susan at work” has spent all morning telling her about her husband’s cousins wife’s sister who had her wisdom teeth out and ......never walked again.... Obviously completely irrelevant to this patient’s problem and also -COMPLETELY UNTRUE!

Oh, and by the way, my son’s birth was totally fine!

4. Email me.

If you feel like you would like to break the ice before meeting face to face then please do not hesitate to e-mail me or any of us here at City Health Clinic.

Some of my patients in the past have emailed me first to introduce themselves and explain to me their previous history and why they have become so anxious about coming to the dentist. They feel they have sort of got it off their chest before they come in and also that by having back and forth chat about their problems with me they’ve already started to get to know me a little bit.

I’d love to hear from you and listen to any of your concerns. I'm on

I hope these tactics will help you. Remember the first step is to book your appointment online. For most patients who are scared of going to the dentist this approach, combined with a very empathetic, experienced and gentle dentist, will be enough to allow you to access the care you need.

For patients who are really, really nervous, there are lots of other strategies we can employ to help you cope. Again, please email me or any of our dentists and read about our dental sedation service - I promise we will do all we can to help you to overcome your fear.

About Ciara

Ciara Sutherland is one of our dentists and she is particularly good with nervous patients. In fact, this was one of the main reasons she won "Dentist of the Year" at Scotland's dental awards in 2017. The judges felt she took time to really understand when a patient is scared of the dentist. She's very welcoming, gentle and explains everything really well. Please have a look at our reviews on Facebook and Google which will tell you a bit more about what Ciara's patients have to say about her.

Dr Ciara Sutherland, Dentist at City Health Clinic, expert in nervous patients

#Edinburghdentist #checkups #nervouspatients #dentalfear #CiaraSutherland

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