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How To Manage Dental Anxiety


Dental anxiety, or odontophobia, is a common and often debilitating fear that affects many individuals. This fear can lead to the avoidance of necessary dental care, which in turn can result in serious dental and medical problems. Employing psychological strategies to manage this fear can be crucial in breaking this negative cycle. One such strategy is the concept of "valued direction," which can be a powerful tool in overcoming dental anxiety.

What is Valued Direction?

Valued direction is a concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It involves identifying and acting in accordance with one's personal values, despite the discomfort and obstacles one might encounter. In the context of dental anxiety, this means finding a deeply rooted reason—a value—why taking care of your dental health is important to you, and using this value as a driving force to overcome your fear.

Steps to Use Valued Direction to Manage Dental Anxiety

1. Identify Your Values

​Start by reflecting on why dental health is important to you. It might be about being able to smile without feeling self-conscious, avoiding pain and diseases, or being able to eat whatever you want without issues. Clearly identifying these values is the first step in using them as motivation.

2. Set Concrete Goals

​Set specific, measurable, and realistic goals related to your values. For instance, if your value is to have a healthy mouth so you can smile freely, a goal could be to schedule and complete a dental appointment within a certain timeframe.

3. Accept Your Feelings

​​Instead of trying to avoid or fight your fear, practice accepting it as a natural reaction. Acknowledge the fear without letting it dictate your behavior. This is a central part of ACT and can help you continue to act in line with your values despite discomfort.

4. Take Small Steps

​Start with smaller, less intimidating tasks and gradually work your way up to visiting the dentist. This might include just visiting the dental office without undergoing treatment, or talking to the dentist about your fears and what can be done to make the visit more comfortable.

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