Dental phobia is the serious, often paralyzing fear of seeking dental care. It has been reliably reported that 50% of the American population does not seek regular dental care. An estimated 9-15% of all Americans avoid much needed care due to anxiety and fear surrounding the dental experience. This translates to some 30-40 million people so afraid of dental treatment that they avoid it altogether.
In terms of your dental health and overall well-being, this can have serious ramifications. Besides chronically infected gums and teeth which can affect your medical status, your ability to chew and digest can be seriously compromised. Without healthy gums and teeth, your speech can be affected as well. Your self confidence can be compromised if you are insecure about your breath and smile. This can lead to serious limitations in both your social and business environments.
The key to good oral health is prevention – stopping problems before they arise. Unfortunately, people who suffer from dental anxiety often fail to visit the dentist for routine care. When they finally do go, often a small preventable problem has turned into a problem which will require major intervention.
The consequences of such neglect don”t stop at the mouth. “These people compromise their appearance, they have bad breath, they don”t work with the public, they don”t date,” says psychologist Philip Weinstein of the Dental Fears Research Clinic at the University of Washington, Seattle.
People with dental anxiety have a sense of uneasiness about the upcoming dental appointment. They may also have exaggerated worries or fears.
Dental phobia is a more serious condition that leaves people panic-stricken and terrified. People with dental phobia have an awareness that the fear is totally irrational but are unable to do much to change this. They exhibit classic avoidance behavior; that is, they will do everything possible to avoid going to the dentist. People with dental phobia usually go to the dentist only when forced to do so by extreme pain.
Other signs of dental phobia include:
- Trouble sleeping the night before the dental exam
- Feelings of nervousness that escalate while in the dental office waiting room
- Crying or feeling physically ill at the very thought of visiting the dentist
- Intense uneasiness at the thought of, or actually when objects are placed in your mouth during the dental appointment or suddenly feeling like it is difficult to breathe
Fortunately, there are ways to get people with dental anxiety and dental phobia to the dentist.
Causes of Dental Phobia and Anxiety
There are many reasons why some people have dental phobia and anxiety. Some of the common reasons include:
- Fear of pain. Fear of pain is a very common reason for avoiding the dentist. This fear usually stems from an early dental experience that was unpleasant or painful or from dental “pain and horror” stories told by others. Thanks to the many advances in dentistry made over the years, most of today”s dental procedures are considerably less painful or even pain free.
- Fear of injections or fear the injection won’t work. Many people are terrified of needles, especially when inserted into their mouth. Beyond this fear, others fear that the anesthesia hasn’t yet taken effect or wasn’t a large enough dose to knock out any pain before the dental procedure begins.
- Fear of anesthetic side effects. Some people fear the potential side effects of anesthesia such as dizziness, feeling faint, or nausea. Others don”t like the numbness or “fat lip” associated with local anesthetics.
- Feelings of helplessness and loss of control. It’s common for people to feel these emotions considering the situation – sitting in a dental chair with your mouth wide open, unable to see what’s going on.
- Embarrassment and loss of personal space. Many people feel uncomfortable about the physical closeness of the dentist or hygienist to their face. Others may feel self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth or possible mouth odors.
The most important step to overcoming dental anxiety is finding a good dentist. Discuss your fears with him.
A good dentist is one who:
- Is patient
- Is highly competent
- Endeavors to make each meeting pain free
- Genuinely cares about you
- Has the ability to nurture you through past traumas
Ask friends and family for dentists they recommend. Feel free to ask any potential dentist about his practice, practice philosophy, and the steps he or she takes to make dentistry pain free and anxiety free. Remember, do not be intimidated. You are the consumer and it is the dentist who should be selling you on his or her service.
Once your dentist knows what your fears are, he or she will be better able to work with you to determine the best ways to make you less anxious and more comfortable. If your dentist doesn’t take your fear seriously, find another dentist.