Are you scared out of your wits to go see the dentist? Do chills run down your spine whenever you think about laying in the dentist’s chair, helpless against the relentless drone of the tooth drill?
Does your heart race at the mere mention of a dentist appointment? Then you are probably a sufferer of dental phobia. If it helps easing your apprehensions, know that you’re not alone.
According to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), moderate to high dental fear is common in up to 17.5% of US adults. In fact, some people are reportedly so scared of the dentist that they prefer to bear the pain instead of taking a trip to the dental office. This is concerning because it means people are not getting the dental care they need.
Dental fear is more common than you think, but it is mostly passed as just a regular uneasiness to see the dentist. Dental phobia, odontophobia, dentophobia, and dentist anxiety are the other phrases used to describe this terror of the dentist.
Causes of Dental Phobia
Dental fear may be attributed to several reasons, some rational and some unfounded. Many people’s fear can be triggered by the different sights, sounds, and smells associated with the dentist, which makes it difficult for them to even enter a dentist’s office. For those who find their fears getting in the way of proper dental care, it can be helpful to identify the causes in order to find a solution.
One of the most common causes is the fear of the man in the white-coat, usually due to childhood perceptions of dentists as authoritarian figures in charge of making sure you brush your teeth. This can be classified as an irrational cause for dental phobia, as any rational adult would know that the dentist has only the best intentions for his oral health.
You may want to shield your pocket from the shrewd dentist, but not your oral problems. Some other common causes of dental fear are:
- Needles: This common fear is compounded at the dentist’s, where needles are usually used directly in the mouth.
- Numbness or Anesthesia: Many people are afraid of being numbed or anesthetized because they don’t know how they will react to the drugs.
- Choking: It is not pleasant to have a person’s fingers in your mouth. It often makes people gag, which is analogous to the sensation of choking.
- Embarrassment: Some people who have less than perfect smiles might fear baring it all to the dentist.
- Diagnosis: It is also common to simply fear getting bad news, which can have dire consequences, for your health as well as your finances. However, it is a fear strong enough to deter people from seeing the dentist altogether.
Giving in to any one of these fears to the point that one avoids proper dental care can have detrimental effects. Untreated conditions can get worse and end up being more painful and expensive than had they been caught and dealt with earlier.
Experts recommend that you should visit the dentist at least twice a year to maintain proper dental health. Even an year or two of giving in to dental fear can result in too many missed check-ups, and cause problems that will only have to be dealt with eventually.
How to Deal with Dental Phobia
It is important for those who fear the dentist to understand just how common their phobia is. They are not alone. Since dental fear is such a common phobia, and because its consequences can be so calamitous, it has been widely studied, and the common dentist knows how to identify the causes of dental fear in a patient, and do all in his or her power to avoid or mitigate the effects.
Dentists these days are trained and equipped—better than ever before—to make sure that people have the most comfortable dentist experience possible. They do so by using non-threatening language and body language, taking breaks frequently, and making positive comments. The practice of thoroughly explaining and showing a dental procedure to the patient beforehand also helps, as do procedural rehearsals.
Many dentists have also abandoned the classic white dentist’s coat, as some dentophobics are more comfortable when their doctor wears regular clothing. It helps bridge the gap. In extreme cases, specially trained dentists will use hypnosis or systematic desensitization to help a patient overcome dental fear, but the processes can take a lot of time. Not all dentists offer such services.
So if fear has kept you away from the dentist’s office for too long, now is the best time to return and get the proper dental care you need. You may visit the dental office once to just have a little discussion regarding your apprehensions with your dentist without the intention of getting any treatment. Don’t just sit at home and allow you dental problems to swell; talk it out with your dentist; he or she should be able to help you get the treatment you need.
Dr. Deepika Garg – Dentist and an internet enthusiast, who is currently involved in dental tourism. Her company facilitates dental implants in New Delhi, India, dental crowns in Los Algodones, Mexico, dentures in San Jose, Costa Rica, and all types of other dental work at different locations throughout the world.