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    Don't Fear the Dentist

    Experts share tips to help you overcome your fear of the dental chair.

    Taking Charge

    Chances are, visiting a dentist won't be nearly as painful as you expect. Surveys of patients before and after the most dreaded procedures -- such as a root canal or wisdom tooth extraction -- have found that they anticipated much more discomfort than they actually experienced, Milgrom says.

    The root canal in particular gets a "bad rap" because it is typically preceded by painful toothaches, Milgrom says. The procedure itself relieves this pain, often in just a single visit. Wisdom tooth extractions get a bad name because of occasional jaw pain experienced several days afterwards, which can be treated with pills.

    Still, even if your mind tells you you'll be just fine, your body may still fear that dentist's chair. Here are a few tips that may help you overcome your fear of the dentist:

    • Go to that first visit with someone you trust, such as a close relative who has no fear of dentists, Bynes suggests. Bynes even encourages friends and relatives to sit with the patient during treatment.
    • Seek distraction while in the dentist's chair. Listen to your own music on headphones --"a new CD, not one you've heard a lot, so you'll be a little more interested in it," Milgrom suggests. Or find a dentist with a TV or other distractions available in the treatment room.
    • Try relaxation techniques. Milgrom suggests controlled breathing -- taking a big breath, holding it, and letting it out very slowly, like you are a leaky tire. This will slow your heartbeat and relax your muscles. Another technique is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in turn.
    • Review with your dentist which sedatives are available or appropriate. Options include local anesthetic, nitrous oxide ("laughing gas"), oral sedatives, and intravenous sedation. While oversedation can be dangerous, too many dentists are uncomfortable using any oral sedation, Milgrom says. And only some dentists are qualified to perform IV sedation.
    • If you can't bring yourself to go to any dentist, you might want to try seeing a psychologist first, says Ronald Kleinknecht, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Western Washington University and co-author of Treating Fearful Dental Patients. The most "tried and true approach" to treating dental phobia (and other phobias) is what Kleinknecht calls "direct therapeutic exposure." It involves introducing the patient to feared items -- say, a needle -- in a gradual and controlled manner.

    How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

    Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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    Never
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    Good
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    You are currently

    Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

    You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

    You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

    Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

    SOURCES:

    American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

    This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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