Dental Phobia

Health Writer

Between nine and fifteen percent of people in the United States avoid seeing a dentist because of fear. This is considered to be dental phobia. Dental phobia can stop someone from seeing a dentist, even when they are facing tooth loss or are in pain from a toothache.

Phobias are intense, irrational fears of situations, events or objects. In the case of dental phobia, it is the intense fear of seeing a dentist. For some, the anxiety is so intense, even seeing a commercial relating to dentistry can bring about anxiety symptoms.

Most phobias interfere with daily functioning, however, dentistry is not something people do on a daily basis. Dental health, research shows, impacts overall health and self-esteem. Not going to the dentist can impact a person's health and decrease their self-esteem. If someone avoids needed dental care, his or her teeth may be a source of embarrassment. They may feel self conscious in social situations or begin to avoid social situations altogether.

According to an article, "What is Dental Phobia?" on the website DentalFearCentral.org, the fear of dentists can be part of another type of anxiety. Twenty percent of people with dental phobia also suffer from another psychiatric disorder, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, agoraphobia or depression.

Causes of Dental Phobia

There are a few different reasons people may develop dental phobia:

Past Experiences

Previous bad experiences with a dentist, either the experience caused a great deal of pain or a dentist previously humiliated a patient.

Childhood Abuse

Dental phobia has been associated with previous sexual, physical or emotional abuse by a person in authority. This is especially true if combined with bad experience with a dentist.

Humiliation by a Dentist

Some dentists are uncaring in their approach toward patients and will humiliate a person or give insensitive or demeaning remarks. It is this psychological pain patients try to avoid.

Learning Dental Phobia

When parents have dental phobia or even a mild fear of dentists, they can pass on this attitude through actions and remarks made. Children can grow up believing a dentist is someone to be scared of.

How Dentists Can Help

Dentists today are more aware of this problem and some dentists actually advertise they work with anxious patients. Some of the ways these dentists help patients are:

Using sedation during visits to help a patient relax.

Using desensitization programs to help patients gradually overcome their fear.

Using visualization, breathing or other relaxation techniques during the dental visit.

Self Help Strategies

Dental phobia is a learned fear, and therefore, can be unlearned.

  • Talk with your dentist and the staff to explain your fears. Most likely they will be understanding and will be willing to work with you to find ways to make you feel comfortable. If the doctor and staff do not want to help you through your fears, you may want to find a different dentist.

  • Develop a signal, such as raising your hand, to let the dentist or hygienist know if you want them to stop working. You may just need a break for a few minutes or need to rinse out or even if your fear is becoming overwhelming.

  • Ask for a complete explanation of the procedures that are going to be done. You have a right to know exactly what is happening and this information may make your feel more in control of the situation.

  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help you to cope with symptoms of anxiety.

  • Use diversions. Sometimes the sound of the equipment can bring on anxiety symptoms. Using a MP3 player to block out the sounds can help you feel more comfortable.

Take some time to discover what may trigger your anxiety attacks. Is it the sounds of the dentist office or seeing the dental chair and equipment? Finding out more about your triggers can help you find ways to compensate.

References:

"What is Dental Phobia?", 2007, Author Unknown, DentalFearCentral.com

"Dental Phobias", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Phobias-Help.com

"Dental Phobia", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Floss.com