Don't Fear the Dentist: How to Overcome Dental Phobia

Jay M. Marks, DMD found an interesting article in the Washington Times. For some people, a simple phone call to the dental practice for an appointment can leave them feeling anxious. They may feel sick and tearful and walking up to the appoitment they have, need to fight that urge to turn and run.

The primary causes of dental phobia are pain, helplessness, embarrassment, or a previous bad experience with a dentist. People who have a phobia will attempt to avoid the dentist at all costs. They might cross the road if they see a dental practice, change the topic if it is brought up by others or not acknowledge to anyone when they have toothache.

The British Dental Health Foundation (a British charity) has published information on this topic as part of its annual campaign – National Smile Month – aimed at reminding everyone to take care of their oral health.
  • 15 per cent of adults who have been to a dentist suffer from extreme dental anxiety.
  • Visiting the Dentist is ranked number one (22%) for making people nervous, closely followed by heights (19%).
A dental phobia is an intense fear of the dentist/dental treatment which has no justification. There are people who fear specific procedures. Some people worry about the entire process, from the appointment to actually visiting to the clinic.

Signs indicating dental phobia include a constant tense feeling when thinking about a dentist, trouble sleeping the night before the appointment, feeling nervous whilst in the waiting room, crying, feeling physically ill, panic attacks or trouble breathing

I feel it is important to identify the cause of the fear to try and either overcome it or manage it. For example, if the noise of the drill is worrying to many patients. I recommend patients bring an MP3 player so they can listen to loud music to distract them while the dentist gets on with trying to do his or her job.

It is also important to give the patient instructions on how to stop treatment whenever they want. This is done by simply raising their left hand in the air. Though if this hand is raised too quickly it can have comical results, my nurse once had her glasses knocked off her face by a patient requesting a recess in treatment, which this certainly lightened the mood!

Some patients have a desire to know exactly what the dentist is doing; others just want the experience to be over quickly with limited conversation. I tend to explain what I plan to do for the patient at their appointment and I then talk them through what I am doing as I do it. Some patients like it, some patients would prefer I keep quiet, and I acclimate my style to their preference. I generally find that talking about things makes them less scary .

A person who lives with a phobia tends to live under pressure to overcome it. If you have a dental phobia you might continuously evade your routine dental care. If you do so, minor issues are not detected, and that minor problem can later become significant. You might suffer from periodontal (gum) disease followed by tooth loss, gingivitis, rotten teeth and broken teeth or even unsightly teeth due to the underlying decay.

It is believed that people with poor oral health often suffer from poor overall health. Research suggests that bad oral health leads to lower life expectancy. There is research that shows heart diseases being linked to inappropriate oral hygiene.

Dental anxiety is attributed to people avoiding visiting the dentist. In fact, the common reason most people give to avoid a dentist is their fear, anxiety or phobia of the instruments, injections and the procedure that is undertaken by the dentist.

It is difficult to come up with a common or generalized statement for the intensity of a person’s dental phobia. As people are different, so are the conditions and symptoms. From sleepless nights to nausea there is a different level of intensity for each individual and there is always a reason to not visit a dental clinic. People with this phobia reach the clinic somehow, but once they are there they fall sick and go home.

The ground rule to keep in mind is that any phobia is a mental state. Like any other disorder it can be treated. However, if you do not get it treated it can worsen. Once you are able to identify the cause of your phobia, then you should be able to deal with your phobia.

Communicate your phobia to your dentist. Dentists can be helpful in assisting patients to overcome their fear. I find that word of mouth recommendations really help. If your friend recommends a dentist to you, at least you know someone who has had a positive experience at the practice with a specific dentist. This can help you feel more confident. If you have a dental phobia it is really important to try and put your fears aside so that you can achieve good oral health.

Once achieved, it is important to maintain it by following the advice of your dentist and visiting them regularly. For more information, contact us now!