Overcoming Dental Fears and Phobia

Dr. James Hallam of Laurentian Dental Centre Kitchener

Dr. James Hallam, Laurentian Dental, Kitchener

While most people don’t love visiting the dentist, there is a point of avoidance that can become a psychological condition known as dental phobia. Also referred to as dentophobia, dental anxiety, odontophobia, or dental fear.

Dental Fears vs Phobia

Many people feel nervous about visiting the dentist but feeling nervous and experiencing dental phobia are two very different things.

Dental phobia is defined as an intense, unreasonable fear specific to an activity, object or situation – resulting in an avoidance of proper dental care. Many suffer through dental emergencies such as broken teeth and painful gum infections to avoid the anxiety of a visit.

Scared patient in a dental chair.
There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Dangers of Dental Phobia

Some harmful side effects of dental phobia include:

 

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Higher Risk of Gum Disease

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Early Tooth Loss

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Emotional Costs

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Poorer General Health

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Lower Life Expectancy

Emotional costs such as a serious loss of self-esteem can be caused by dental phobia. When a person avoids the dentist at all costs and suffers from discolored or damaged teeth they may become increasingly insecure and self-conscious. Some even avoid smiling or struggle to speak through a partially closed mouth. And often their professional and personal lives suffer from their serious loss of self-esteem.

Not only can dental phobia seriously compromise a person’s self-esteem, personal and professional quality of life, but because some life-threatening conditions such as lung infections and heart disease are linked to poor oral health – harmful side effects include an overall lower life expectancy.

Dental Phobia Warning Signs

If the idea of visiting a dentist makes you extremely uneasy, it may be advisable to take some steps to finding effective treatment. There isn’t a clear diagnosis of what separates someone from experiencing what might be considered regular dental fear versus dental phobia. But some signs include:

 

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Nausea or being physically ill when thinking about a dentist visit.

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Difficulty getting a good night’s sleep before a dental exam.

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Feeling increasingly emotional when thinking of visiting the dentist, upon seeing dental instruments or dental staff.

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Increased levels of anxiety and physical stress symptoms such as sweaty hands & pounding heart in the waiting room.

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Trouble breathing and feelings of panic when dental objects are placed in and around mouth during a dental appointment.

Seeing dental instruments such as forceps and needles and hearing dental drills and other tools in the office can cause heightened anxiety. These sensory responses may be triggered by previous poor experiences and cause fears to flare up.

What Causes Dental Phobia?

Dental phobia can be caused by many things, including what starts out as a seemingly mild dislike for dental care that leads to anxiety and then snowballs to complete avoidance of any dental care.

“When anxiety heightens to a level that negatively impacts your ability to make healthy decisions you may be experiencing dental phobia.”

The severity of dental phobia can vary, for those suffering extreme cases they may never see a dentist and deal with the above side effects. For some, they may be able to grin and bear it so to speak, forcing themselves to make it to an appointment.

For those who suffer from dental fears and phobia, it’s common to experience nausea and in some cases become physically sick before an appointment. Many experience unusually tense physical symptoms which can lead to a lower pain threshold.

The more nervous, the more pain sensitive. Which may call for more anesthetic or available pain treatments. Some even develop stress-related problems in other areas of their body including severe headaches and stiffness in the muscles of the back and neck.

People develop dental anxieties and phobias for many different reasons. A few common causes emerge from ongoing research including:

 

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Pain:

Pain is the most frequent answer chosen by survey subjects who haven’t visited the dentist in a year or more. This may be attributed to negative past experiences.

 

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Negative past experiences:

Any discomfort or pain from a previous dental experience is likely to cause anxiety around the next visit. Many negative past experiences at the dentist are because of methods before the advent of pain-free dentistry and better techniques and procedures.

 

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Vulnerability:

Having to stay still, being uncertain of what to expect, and feeling helpless and vulnerable in the dentist chair can all cause and worsen anxiety. The loss of control causing increased anxiety can lead to developing full-blown phobias around a dental visit.

 

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Embarrassment:

It can feel a little too close for comfort sometimes when a dentist is prying open your mouth to have a look inside and poke around such an intimate part of your body. Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed to have a relative stranger getting so close, especially to look at a dental issue they may already feel self-conscious about.

 

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Judgment:

Many patients who’ve avoided visiting the dentist for years often feel nervous they might face judgment for the condition or neglect of their oral health. Not to worry. As dental professionals, we recognize that sometimes life gets in the way of taking care of your mouth. We ensure plenty of opportunities to talk privately with our dentists about your concerns during a new patient exam.

 

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Genetic inheritance:

Not all dental fear and phobia stem from bad experiences. In a study published by Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, findings proved that dental fear was 30% genetic among surveyed subjects. Fear of visiting the dentist can stem from inherited attitudes and experiences passed down from parent to child.

It’s important for parents to appear relaxed and remain calm and assuring when taking their little ones to visit the dentist. Developing the right attitude and positive associations with oral health early on can make all the difference.

“We provide a judgment-free environment for assessing how to optimize your oral health.”

Solutions to Dental Phobia

Without treatment, dental phobia is likely to worsen over time, in part because emotional stress can compound and make each potential visit even more uncomfortable. Whatever varying degree of dental fear or phobia you may be suffering from, the good news is there are many treatment options available.

Tips and Treatment Options

Because people with dental phobia experience increased symptoms of panic and anxiety before and during a potential dentist visit, many prescribed anti-anxiety medications such as triazolam can help. We recommend talking with your doctor and exploring your options.

Along with psychotherapeutic coping techniques to help prevent, lessen and relieve anxiety. Other techniques include:

 

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Practicing optimism and positive self-talk

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Distracting music or other media and entertainment

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Visualization and breathing techniques

An Environment Designed for You

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your health for legitimate fears and phobias. Long gone are the days of barbaric dentistry methods and cold sterile offices. At LDC we understand the importance and affect environment can have on your wellbeing.

We offer a comfortable, modern office environment including a kids’ corner where children can watch movies, play with toys, video games, or books while in the reception area. And our operatories are equipped with flat screen televisions, comfortable chairs, and headphones to help you relax during procedures.

Sedation Options

We offer Nitrous Oxide sedation – an inhaled gas that promotes a calm feeling. Nitrous oxide is not a narcotic, nor is it addictive. The main side effect is dizziness or nausea, but this is usually only during the procedure and the dose can be scaled back for your comfort. We can also prescribe a sedative for you to take before appointments when medically advisable and appropriate for managing your anxiety.

Communication is Key

Please feel free to talk to us about options to make the dental process more comfortable for you. Dentists sometimes miss the signs of an uneasy patient or someone suffering from a deeper dental phobia. At LDC we make a point of first consulting and discussing any apprehensions before finding the right plan to move forward together.

We believe in the effectiveness of encouraging and maintaining open lines of communication with our patients. We listen to your concerns face-to-face, hearing what brought you to us and how we might see you again and ensure your best ongoing oral health. We prioritize communication with all our clinicians, ensuring you and your family know exactly what to expect.

Your Oral Health Partners

It’s extremely common to experience some anxiety, fear or dental phobia. Feeling strong negative emotions and anxiety around visiting the dentist can trap a person in a vicious cycle of further avoidance and worsening symptoms.

We strive to make Laurentian Dental Centre as stress-free as possible. Working together, we identify your fears and work to resolve them on an individual basis, designing a treatment plan that’s right for you. Intense fears and anxiety will begin to lessen and each visit will become easier. And that’s really something to smile about.

Yours for better dental health,

Put Your Best Smile Forward!

Visit Laurentian Dental Today for Your Optimal Dental Health.