Understanding Dental Phobia
Many people are afraid of going to the dentist. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders estimates that roughly four percent of people have a fear of receiving dental care. For some “dentophobics,” the fear is so intense that they actually avoid routine dental checkups and instead suffer through the pain of toothaches, periodontal (gum) disease, and other dental problems.
If you have dental phobia staying informed may help ease your anxiety. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some common dental fears and how you can overcome them.
Common Dental Fears
An irrational fear of the dentist can develop for many reasons, but for some people it starts with the office itself. The sound of the drill, the smell of the chemicals, or the sight of the instruments can be terrifying for a person with dentophobia. Other times people attribute their fear to negative past experiences, while others say they’re just afraid of their particular dentist.
According to Dental Fear Central, an organization that supports people suffering from dentophobia, many people have a fear of:
- Panic attacks
- Being numb
- Being awake
- Being under anesthetics
- Receiving treatment
- Losing control
- Becoming a victim of abuse or mistreatment
- Exorbitant dental costs
Regardless of your dental fear, several treatment options are available to help you overcome this terrifying condition.
Treating Dental Fears
Psychological & Behavioral Techniques
Many of these techniques are employed by the dentist. For example, some dental professionals create a spa-like atmosphere with soothing candles, running water, and incense for a relaxing environment. Other techniques include explaining dental procedures to the patient before administering care, asking for permission to continue, inviting the patient to stop treatment during procedures, and setting aside time for breaks.
Many dentists also use specialized relaxation techniques. This may include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation techniques, and other cognitive strategies. Gradual exposure or desensitization is another technique used to treat dental fears, which involves slowly introducing a phobia to a patient, say a drill, until the fear is greatly reduced or eliminated through learned relaxation skills.
Sedation provides patients with a relaxing dental experience through the use of a sedative. This technique induces a tranquil state so patients remain at-ease during the dental procedure, and sedatives are available in two forms: gas or IV (intravenous) injection. For inhalation sedation (laughing gas), the patient is still cognizant of the procedure but remains in a relaxed state. IV sedation, on the other hand, provides much deeper tranquility and the patient may not be aware of what’s happening or remember anything after treatment.
Other Tips for Overcoming Dental Phobia
- Be candid with your dentist and explain your dental fears
- Ask your dentist to provide detailed explanations before administering care
- Take deep breaths and think of something calming (e.g. the beach)
- Wear headphones with relaxing music or use earplugs to block out the sounds
- Establish a signal (e.g. a raised hand or finger) to stop your dentist or hygienist if you’re uncomfortable
- Join a support group for people suffering from dental phobia
- Seek professional therapy from a psychologist or psychiatrist
Here at the Texas Center for Cosmetic & Implant Dentistry, we always want our patients to feel relaxed and comfortable during their visit. If you have any questions on how we can help you during your next visit, please contact us.