Distraction Techniques for Dental Phobia

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Distraction is a powerful tool when it comes to dealing with phobias. Fear is something of a vicious cycle, feeding into itself as you think about it and become increasingly distraught as you think of nothing else and begin to go through worst case scenarios, what can potentially go wrong etc. Therefore it can be critically important to break this cycle by introducing anything which can draw a patient’s mind away from their phobia, and hence the noble art of distraction.

What is distraction?

A distraction is quite simply the use of any media or technique that diverts attention towards it. Considering this very broad definition, almost anything can be used as a distraction, from film and music to a simple conversation or a particularly bright painting.

The very term 'distraction techniques' often makes people very nervous. It can give the impression that they are going to be tricked or manipulated into doing as they’re told, accepting treatment they don't want or don't feel comfortable about. For those who are phobic and probably suffer from extreme anxiety and perhaps even panic attacks, the idea that your dentist is going to distract you so that they can then perform the very treatments that you are afraid of in the first place is probably not something you will particularly enjoy or look forward to.

It is not as bad as it sounds however. Ignoring what can be seen as poor and insensitive terminology, distraction techniques are actually a tried, tested, useful, and important tool for dentists to use when attempting to treat and reassure people suffering from dental phobias. Furthermore they are useful for any nervous or unsure patient, like children – especially those visiting the dentist for the first time – or elderly patients with dementia (a neurological condition which can cause a patient to be forgetful and easily distressed and confused). 

How are distraction techniques used?

Distractions techniques can vary immensely, ranging from the obvious to the subtle. Essentially they are simply the dentist trying to make their patient feel more relaxed and at ease. For some dentists it is a matter of establishing what it is in particular that terrifies the patient, and then working on distracting them from that element. For example if a patient is scared by the various noises associated with dental treatments, such as the noise of the drill, then they may get the patient to listen to music via earphones so that they cannot hear the noises and thus be able to relax better.

Other techniques might include having conversations to help get to know the dentist and be reassured of what is going to happen. The dentist may offer tea or regular breaks during treatment when possible, or perhaps juts maintain a casual conversation throughout the patient’s time at the surgery. Some clinics may even go so far as to offer massages or other relaxation techniques.

The key purpose of any distraction techniques used by a dentist is to help relax, calm and reassure the patient. By being honest, having open and clear communication, and offering other relaxing things such as a cup of tea, they hope to show the patient that a visit to the dentist does not always have to be a terrifying experience. To some extent all dentists employ such techniques, but there is massive diversity in the extent to which they do.  

Distraction techniques are essentially a dentist’s way of trying to relax and also get to know their patient, and hence also elucidate the specific causes of any dental phobias they may suffer from. If they can get their patient to relax enough to honestly and comfortably communicate with them, then they may be able to gain insight into exactly what it is they are afraid of and thus know better how to treat them. Although for some phobics distraction techniques may not always work as the dentist may simply not be able to get through all of the fear with relaxation methods alone, and in extreme cases attempts at distraction can in fact worsen their existing fear.  

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Guide to Dental Phobia