Dental Phobia – Fact or Fiction?
Each of us has our own little insecurities and fears that we keep hidden from the outside world, but there’s one phobia that’s actually shared by a much larger percentage of the populace – dental phobia. It may surprise you (or not) to learn that approximately three-quarters of the adult population in the U.S. claims some level of fear or phobia about receiving dental care. That could definitely lead to some skipped dental appointments!
Fears vs. Phobias
Sure, some people have anxiety about visiting the dentist, but does that make dental phobia a true phobia? For some people, yes, absolutely, and for those less affected it’s probably more accurate to call it “dental anxiety.”
A phobia produces:
- Feelings of uncontrollable dread or panic when exposed to a specific situation or object, usually one that poses little real danger to the individual.
- Anxiety or panic sometimes even when just thinking about a specific object or situation.
- Physical reactions like rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing and sweating
- The impulse to do whatever it takes to avoid the anxiety producing situation, despite the understanding that these fears are probably exaggerated or baseless.
A person with this type of phobia might avoid the dentist his entire life or only seek dental care if the need was very great. Even then, the patient might be so terrified that he would become ill before the appointment or in the waiting room.
On the other hand, persons experiencing dental anxiety display nervousness, maybe even fear, but not so much that they are ruled by that fear. These individuals make regular dental appointments and show up for them despite their (very real) anxiety. This is akin to a person who has a fear of public speaking, but makes a public speech anyway, because it’s important.
Causes of Dental Anxiety
There are several common triggers for dental anxiety, including:
- Pain: Many people fear their dental visit will be painful, even though advances in dentistry have made many treatments “pain free.”
- The past: Bad experiences with dentistry in the past – especially if pain was involved – can cause that individual dental anxiety for years to come. Also, past experiences with dental staff who were unfeeling or controlling can have a negative effect on a patient.
- Second-hand fear: Children told about bad dental experiences or raised by someone a fear of dentists can develop their own level of dental anxiety even if they have had no bad experience themselves.
- Embarrassment: For an individual with bad teeth or gums, bad breath, or other medical problems related to the face, allowing anyone (even a medical professional) to get so close to the mouth or face could be very embarrassing.
- Control issues: Not unlike other medical procedures, being in the dental chair can make the patient feel that he is helpless or that he has no control over his situation, which in itself, is anxiety producing.
Overcoming Fear of Dental Care
Although phobias, fears and anxiety can’t be cured instantly with a pill or a bowl of chicken soup, there are some proven methods to deal with fear of dental treatment.
- Talk about it: Speak with your dentist honestly about your fears and concerns. Your dentist truly cares about you and your dental phobia, and wants you to be comfortable and relaxed in his office. He will be happy to explain your upcoming procedure to you and if necessary adapt the treatment to meet your needs.
- Stay calm: Set your appointment for a time when you don’t feel rushed so you’re anxiety level isn’t increased by looking at your watch. Also, before your appointment, avoid foods that will make you jittery, like caffeine and sugar.
- Listen to music: Bring a pair of headphones so you can listen to music during your visit. This will not only be relaxing, it will block out all the other sounds in the office like drilling that can be upsetting to those with dental anxiety.
Fighting the symptoms of dental anxiety in order to receive regular dental check-ups would be a real “win” for individuals suffering from dental phobia. Considering the strong correlation between good dental health and whole body health, it would definitely be a step in the right direction!