Fear of the dentist or anxiety that centers around any dental procedure is actually one of the most common fears that people report.
As many as 75% of adults are believed to experience some degree of anxiety when visiting the dentist, even for routine appointments.
Very few people look forward to going to the dentist, but dental phobia is more than feeling a little stressed about your visit before you go.
What Is Dental Phobia?
Dentophobia, or odontophobia, causes such an extreme degree of stress for sufferers that they often avoid going to the dentist at all costs. They will put up with gum infections, minor toothaches and an assortment of other easily treated problems just to avoid their dentist. They will put off visits until they have a full-blown dental emergency. It is believed that most cases of dental phobia stem from having a very negative experience at the dentist previously - some professionals even consider it to be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Other causes of dental phobia may also be embarrassment due to poorly taken care of teeth or feeling like going to the dentist is a loss of control.
When a dental emergency arises, like a severe toothache or a dental abscess, the dental procedures necessary are often extremely unpleasant. In addition, being tense and nervous lowers your pain threshold, which will make the procedure even worse for those with severe dental anxiety. Only going to the dentist when one of these major procedures is needed serves to reinforce all of the negative feelings associated with dentophobia. Sufferers end up stuck in an endless cycle of fear and pain that is very difficult to overcome.
Those with dental phobia obviously have a much higher risk of gum and periodontal disease and they also risk early tooth loss. Because of the link between oral health and overall health, sufferers also tend to have poorer health in general. Their discolored and unhealthy teeth also result in lower self-esteem, and the far-reaching repercussions of their phobia can take a toll on both their personal and professional lives. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome dental phobia.
How To Overcome Dental Phobia?
Without treatment or some sort of intervention, dental phobia and anxiety will typically get worse over time. Each time a sufferer does go to the dentist, it is more likely to be a bad experience and they are even less likely to go again.
Overcoming dental phobia is much like overcoming any other type of extreme fear. Not every approach is going to work for everyone, but some of the main treatments include behavior therapy and cognitive therapy. Today, there are even specialized dentists that specifically treat people with dental phobia, and they work to make each visit a pleasant one. Having positive dental experiences, or ones that are not negative, helps a great deal with overcoming a fear of visiting the dentist.
Along with these approaches, there are also pharmacological approaches. The use of anesthesia and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) are common for a lot of dental procedures even for patients without a phobia. But dentists will take special measures with their most fearful patients. They employ the use of prescription medications and sedatives to make procedures less stressful for patients with severe anxiety. These medications will help patients to feel calmer, but they allow them to continue to communicate with their dental professionals during the procedure. Sometimes these different approaches are used in varying combinations in order to determine what is best for the patient.
In order to avoid painful, long and unpleasant procedures it is important to visit your dentist for regular checkups and routine teeth cleanings. These types of visits typically don't involve any pain at all and choosing to visit the dentist more often helps to ward off those extreme dental emergencies. Having even these routine procedures done is extremely stressful for someone with dental phobia, but the fear can be overcome.