WEST ALLIS, Wis. – The American Dental Association reports that fear of the dentist is one of the top reasons Americans skip routine oral health appointments, especially in this era of COVID-19. But Wisconsin’s dentists warn that the true threat to your health can come from putting off routine cleanings and dental exams.
“Oral health and overall health are closely linked, and dentistry plays an important role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases that can affect systemic health,” said Dr. Patrick Tepe, a general dentist in Verona and immediate past-president of the Wisconsin Dental Association. “Regular dental visits do more than keep your teeth and gums healthy. They can identify small problems before they become big ones, and help stave off other issues like heart disease, diabetes, even Alzheimer’s.”
While COVID-19 has put a lot of things on hold this year, dental offices have adapted to make sure your oral health doesn’t have to be one of them.
“The dental profession has always been at the forefront of implementing safety protocols for patients and staff,” Tepe said. “In addition to universal precautions already in place, dental offices have added even more safeguards in their day-to-day practice such as extra personal protective equipment (PPE), health screenings and more to ensure the best and safest care.”
If you suffer from COVID-19-related or other anxieties related to dental appointments, the Wisconsin Dental Association recommends these stress-reducing tips for your next visit.
- Ask your dental office about its COVID-19 protocols. If you’re in doubt about the infection-control procedures that your dental office has put in place, do not hesitate to call and ask. Dental staff welcome these questions and will be happy to share what they’re doing differently to keep you safe. Common changes you may hear include more detailed screening, added PPE, limiting waiting room usage and increased sanitization.
- Ask for recommendations. As with all good relationships, a doctor-patient relationship should be built on trust. For some, fears such as being overtreated or overbilled for services is enough to keep patients away from dental offices. While these outcomes are highly unlikely, you may find comfort in a recommendation from a trusted family member or friend. You might also find peace of mind when selecting a dentist using the Find-a-Dentist® search engine, available at WDA.org, which locates ADA/WDA member dentists in your area. When you choose an ADA/WDA member dentist, you know they’ve agreed to practice under The ADA Code that covers five basic principles: respect for your wants and needs as a patient; to do no harm; to always do good; and to treat all people with fairness and truthfulness.
- Share your fears. Openly discussing your fears with the dentist is a great way to get everyone on the same page. Knowing your concerns will help the dental team adapt to a treatment plan fit to your needs. Your safety and wellness is your dentist’s highest priority – meaning they are more than willing to work with you to address your phobias and answer any questions about your oral health and treatment. If helpful, you can ask your dentist to explain each step throughout your appointment or even establish a hand signal to use when you feel discomfort or need a break.
- Distract yourself. If the sound of a dental drill is bothersome or you just want to zone out, bring headphones to listen to your favorite music, podcast or audiobook during your next visit. Practicing relaxation techniques can also go a long way at an appointment. Deep-breathing and muscle-relaxing exercises can make a significant difference in relieving tension mentally and physically. Count your breaths, inhaling slowly and exhaling for same number of counts. Do this in sets of five while you’re in the waiting room or sitting in the dental chair.
- Control what you can. While there are some factors that you can’t control during a trip to the dentist, there are plenty of choices you can make to lower stress levels during your appointment. Select a time for your visit that comfortably fits your schedule – don’t choose a time of day where you may feel hurried or under pressure. Adjust your diet leading up to the appointment, laying off caffeine and sugary foods that can easily heighten anxiety symptoms.
While it is important that you see your dentist regularly, at least one to two times each year, good oral health starts at home. Maintaining a proper oral care routine is the best way to reduce the need for additional trips to the dentist or dental procedures outside of a standard checkup and cleaning. Your oral and mental health play essential roles in your overall wellness, and should be always be a priority.
For more information about coping with dental anxiety and your oral health during the coronavirus pandemic, visit the American Dental Association’s public awareness website at www.MouthHealthy.org.