Being scared of the dentist or having a fear of the dentist is often associated with children. Young children often have a fear of the dentist because it is something unknown and they don’t understand what is happening to them, so they instinctively react with fear. Unfortunately, dental phobias don’t end with childhood, and many adults grapple with this fear every time they have an appointment.
There is a difference between having some anxiety associated with a dental visit and having a fear or a phobia. A fear or a phobia can be so debilitating that sufferers actually avoid getting the treatment they need.
A phobia is defined as an overwhelming and unreasonable fear, associated with a specific person, event or occasion. Unfortunately, when this phobia is related to the dentist, it can result in a serious complication of relatively minor issues. It’s important to make the distinction between anxiety and phobia because the two often require differing responses.
Anxiety is associated with a sense of uneasiness about an upcoming appointment. Dental phobia is more serious, because it results in an intense fear or dread, which renders the patient terrified, not just anxious.
Dental phobia is a prevalent condition, with 9-15% of Americans and 50% of Australians reporting that they avoid visiting the dentist because of the feeling of fear and anxiety it provokes.
Risks Associated with Dental Phobia
Unfortunately, dental phobia has an impact on dental health. People suffering from a phobia or fear of the dentist have a higher risk of both tooth loss and gum disease. Dental phobia also has an impact on the emotional state of a person, as damaged or decayed teeth provoke feelings of embarrassment and insecurity. In fact, some people become so concerned with their appearance that they completely withdraw from public and social activities.
Dental phobia can also lead to a general lower quality of health. More and more research is linking poor oral health to severe and life-threating illnesses such as lung infections and heart disease.
Levels of Dental Phobia
As with all conditions, there are various levels of anxiety and phobia. Understanding which level you suffer from is vital in getting the situation treated. For example, if you cannot even step foot in a dentist, you are experiencing anxiety and phobia at an extreme level. However, if you lose sleep the night before an appointment, or feel anxious but force yourself to attend, your condition is less-acute.
Treating Dental Phobia
Going to the dentist is an essential part of maintaining health. Therefore, it’s vital that dental fear and phobia is treated. The earlier the condition is addressed, the better, as fear will only become more deeply rooted over time.
Luckily, there are a number of options that make dental visits more comfortable. Firstly, people that are tense are more sensitive to pain, so offering extra anaesthetic or pain treatment is a good idea. Sleep dentistry is particularly useful for treating patients with intense fears or phobias.
What Causes Dental Phobia and Anxiety?
There are often a number of contributing factors to dental phobia and anxiety, with the most common being:
- Loss of Control: Phobias are often tied to situations in which the sufferer feels as though they are out of control. When you visit the dentist, you are confined to a chair, and you have to sit still. You have no power once you’re in the chair and this can provoke anxiety.
- Pain: It is natural to avoid pain. So, if you have felt pain at the dentist previously, you may have a psychological guard against revisiting. These days dentistry is very much ‘less painful’ so it’s easy to allay this fear.
- Past Experiences: If you have had a bad or fearful experience at the dentist in the past, this memory may be enough to provoke an anxiety.
- Self-Consciousness: As strange as it sounds, the mouth is a very intimate part of the body. Your anxiety or fear may be related to feeling embarrassed about having a stranger poke around inside it.
Symptoms of Dental Phobia and Anxiety
Understanding the symptoms of dental phobia is essential in separating it from normal levels of anxiety. Symptoms include:
- Feeling physically ill at the thought of an appointment
- Feeling increasingly tense as the appointment approaches
- Not being able to sleep the night before an appointment
- Feeling like crying when you think about the dentist or even things associated with the dentist such as the instruments or the white coat.
- Feeling a sense of panic when the dentist places objects in your mouth.
The best way to address phobia and anxieties related to the dentist is to talk to your dentist. Together, you can discuss ways to get the treatment you need free from fear.
Contact Dr George Olstein today with any questions or to make an appointment.