I'm just back from the dentist. A portion of my head is still numb from the local anesthetic but despite my apprehension everything went well, as it always does. Speaking to the kindly receptionist (actually she spoke, I slurred and dribbled) we agreed that we were born too young. Our children, now young adults, haven't been touched beyond a little work involving braces. We, by contrast, discussed our various dental procedures and commiserated over the angst and discomfort they caused.
The reality of a dental procedure, in my experience at least, is so different from the anxiety that often precedes it. I'm sure I'm getting more nervous as I get older, yet once I'm in the chair it quickly dissipates as I give myself over to the skill and professionalism of the dental surgeon. I suppose I had good cause to be a bit nervous today: a broken tooth and two other repairs in one sitting tends to do that. Still, it reminds me that dental anxiety is a very real health issue and one that affects people in different ways.
A common question around dental anxiety is whether the person suffers with anxiety or a phobia. In fact the gap between anxiety and phobia is somewhat blurred but typically a phobia is considered an unreasonable fear that leads to avoidance or escape of the feared situation. By that definition we could argue that people who manage to haul themselves to the dentist despite their anxiety aren't really phobic, despite the fact they may be highly anxious.
The reasonableness or otherwise of fear may vary from person to person. Certainly people in my age group (50's or over) will probably remember times when dentistry was not without its painful moments. Most anxiety about visits to the dentist in this age group often revolves around the prospect of pain, and I admit to being one of those. The real problem however isn't for people like me; it's for people who have a genuine terror of dental treatments or examinations.
People without a fear of the dentist probably think dental phobia involves the fear of pain. In fact this is only part of the picture. Some people have deep-seated control issues in which they worry that they have no say over the procedure, the time it takes and whether or when something might cause discomfort. They may fear the dental examination room itself, the lights, the noise of pumps and drills, the way dentists are dressed and masked. Others fear the intrusion of things into their mouth. They may fear choking, or being sick, or the proximity of the dentist and their assistant to their face during a procedure.
Unfortunately if fear of the dentist keeps you away there's a bigger problem brewing. The chances of dental decay and gum disease increase and with this general health can be affected. Rotten teeth are not nice to see or to have. They can affect self-esteem and the longer the situation goes on, the more embarrassing and difficult it becomes.
Increasingly, dental practices put time and resources aside to treat dental phobia. They work at the pace of their patient and will address any fears the person may have. If the thought of visiting the dentist makes you feel ill, tearful or just plain terrified, you really should consider having your phobia treated. Dental phobia is highly responsive to treatment so I would urge anyone in this situation to seek help.
Published On: January 05, 2012